As you might notice, LB Derrick Brooks is behind the line of scrimmage as he makes this tackle on RB Shawn Bryson
It was obscured by a questionable penalty, not to mention attention-grabbing sacks, punt returns and fumbles. Oh, the visiting Buffalo Bills also picked up a total of 43 yards on the play, but if you can get past those issues, you just might realize that Tampa Bay Buccaneers' linebacker Derrick Brooks turned in the most remarkable moment of the afternoon on Sunday.
Here's the setting: Tampa Bay leads by 10 points with just three-and-a-half minutes remaining, forcing Buffalo to throw on every down. QB Rob Johnson drops back to pass on second-and-ten from the Bills' 46 and Brooks, who doesn't blitz often, does on this snap, coming right up the middle to get to Johnson early. Brooks pulls Johnson down backwards and has him just inches from the turf when the Bills' QB manages to toss the ball two feet forward into the arms of RB Shawn Bryson.
Brooks is deprived of the sack as Bryson takes off downfield against a spread-out Bucs defense, picking his way for a 17-yard gain. As he nears the sideline at the end of the run, Bryson is knocked out of bounds by a Buccaneer tackler, about 30 yards from where Brooks nearly ended the play in the backfield.
That tackler? Brooks!
Brooks was flagged for a late hit on the play, a call that seemed surprising on review, and another penalty was called on DT Warren Sapp for being in the Bills' bench area after the play. Lost in the shuffle was any amazement over Brooks' two-pronged play. How could he have been on both ends of that snap? It was as if he simply 'beamed' from one spot to another, Star Trek-style.
The answer is 50% speed and 50% desire. Brooks is, unquestionably, one of the fastest linebackers in the league and he racks up enormous tackle totals by making plays from sideline to sideline. Still, many players would have been satisfied with a near-sack on the play, particularly on a defense that's in prevent mode. The instinctual Brooks never looked at it that way.
"I saw him flip the ball to the back and saw the back took off, so I just got up and chased him," said Brooks. Oh, is that all?
Despite the penalty, Brooks did get credit for the tackle on the play, one of an incredible 22 stops he made on the day. Not only was that a career high for Brooks, it tied the best single-game total in Buccaneer history. Hardy Nickerson also had 22 tackles in a game at Chicago on November 23, 1997.
"Derrick played pretty well, and it was his type of game," said an understated Tony Dungy on Monday. "There were a lot of spread-out formations and he was roaming the field. Derrick played well and played hard, and I think he was pretty inspired and did a good job."
Dungy and the Bucs gave Brooks a game ball after his all-out performance, which also included one sack and a forced fumble, but the Bucs coach was almost nonchalant about his star linebacker's abilities.
"Oh, I don't know," said Dungy. "We kind of expect those things from him."
Brooks' tackle total was inflated by the fact that Tampa Bay's defense was on the field for 82 plays and almost 37 minutes, but it should be noted that no other Buc defender had more than 10 stops on the day. If you think you heard on Sunday that Brooks' tackle total was 20, your memory isn't failing you. Like many teams, the Bucs use film-study totals for tackles rather than press-box totals. Thus, the final defensive stats aren't revealed until Monday afternoon, after the team has watched video of the contest.
And this was no case of stat inflation. The gameday stat crew credited Brooks with 19 solo tackles and one assist on Sunday. The coaches actually saw one less solo tackle but gave him credit for being in on four assists. They also saw one big play after another.
Such as his contribution at the midway point of the third quarter, with the Bucs clinging to a 10-7 lead and the Bills driving into Tampa Bay's red zone. On third-and-nine, Johnson zipped a quick pass over the middle to WR Peerless Price, who then tried to turn it upfield to get the first down. Not only did Brooks prevent that from happening, but he stripped Price of the ball to force the first turnover of the game. Earlier in that drive, Brooks had slowed the Bills down on first-and-ten by zipping through the line of scrimmage and meeting Bryson just as he got the handoff for a four-yard loss.
Those are the types of plays the Buccaneers have come to expect from their three-time Pro Bowler, as Dungy indicated above. Still, 22 tackles is 22 tackles, a plateau rarely reached by any player. It's possible that Brooks, already an intense performer, was particularly fired up for the Bucs' 'must-win' situation. Dungy believed his whole team was in that frame of mind.
"We knew it was going to be a tough game, and I think we had all of our units step up and do the job," said Dungy. "Our backs were to the wall. Hopefully it will get like that and we'll get more and more inspired each week."
More inspired? Brooks? That is hard to imagine.