Derrick Brooks isn't satisfied with the Bucs' strong defensive efforts so far
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the New York Jets in just over a day, and another dominating defensive performance could spell 4-0 for the home teams. Tampa Bay has jumped out to only the third 3-0 start in team history, in no small part because it's already ferocious defense seems to have taken another step forward.
In the middle of that controlled chaos each Sunday is sixth-year linebacker Derrick Brooks, who just may be the best at his position in the NFL. Brooks already has 40 tackles and the Bucs' defense has allowed just one touchdown per game.
That would probably be good enough against the Jets this Sunday, but on Saturday, Brooks wasn't thinking about the Jets or 'good enough.' Brooks was contemplating perfection.
That is, he claims the Buccaneer defense is in search of 'The Perfect Game.'
"We feel like we have the personnel to go out there and dominate an offense in every category," said Brooks.
A 31-10 final in Detroit, in which the Lions got their field goal after a 70-yard kickoff return and added their only touchdown on a fluky 'Hail Mary' pass? Not good enough.
A 41-0 blanking of the Bears in which Chicago gained just 165 yards of offense? Not good enough. QB Cade McNown's scrambling helped the Bears pile up 116 rushing yards. That's not domination in the running game.
According to Brooks, the key to moving towards that perfect game is not believing your own hype. "We have to guard against thinking that we're better than we are. We haven't played the perfect game yet. Fortunately, we have a coach that does a good job of keeping us grounded."
That would be Head Coach Tony Dungy, who believes in the bottom line, and that's wins and losses, not statistical dominance. A two-touchdown lead in the fourth quarter means a defensive shift for Dungy, who wants to let his opponent run out the clock, even if it means moving the ball. Sometimes the stats become less dominant for that reason.
That doesn't stop Brooks from dreaming. And this is a man who chases his dreams with determination, a man who has successfully pursued his Master's Degree while becoming one of the NFL's dominant players. Brooks believes the Buccaneers' stability under Dungy since 1996 gives his unit the shot at that lofty goal.
"We've all matured as players," said Brooks. "This is our fifth year playing in this same defensive system with the same coaches."
There were a few changes this year, but the Bucs have forged on without a hiccup.
"This defense had a lot to improve going into this season," said Brooks. "Letting Hardy (Nickerson) and Brad (Culpepper) were tough decisions, but I think Jamie (Duncan) and Anthony (McFarland) have stepped up. We've overcome a lot in a short period of time."
But there's more to overcome if Brooks is to reach his goal.
"We have to get better not just every week but every day," said Brooks. "That's our focus in practice, to improve every day. It's tough to maintain that focus some days but we're driven to succeed."