LB Derrick Brooks had 10 tackles against the Bears on Sunday, one of which made him the Bucs' all-time leader
Derrick Brooks set a significant Tampa Bay Buccaneers franchise record on Sunday.
Thing is, nobody knew it until Monday.
With 10 stops against the Chicago Bears in Sunday's 27-24 loss, Brooks raised his career total to 1,031 tackles, the most in team history. After becoming just the second Buc ever to eclipse the 1,000-tackle mark earlier in the season, Brooks passed Hardy Nickerson's career record of 1,028 with his eighth stop Sunday.
Brooks, who has been more focused on his team's up-and-down fortunes this season, was a little caught by surprise when informed of his accomplishment Monday evening.
"I was aware of it, but with all of the things that have been going on with us this season, it's kind of been something on the back of my mind," said Brooks. "It was mentioned to me last Wednesday and I had no idea I was that close to breaking this record.
"I thank God for it. What can you say? I just hope I can have a thousand more over the next six-and-a-half years."
In a way, Brooks got seven more on Monday. Tackles are an unofficial statistic in the NFL, a nod more than anything to how difficult they can be to identify during full-speed action. As such, some NFL teams report their defensive totals based on what the game day statistics crew comes up with and some use the totals compiled by the coaching staff after game tape review.
The Bucs fall into the latter group, with the thought that game review provides more accurate totals. Thus, Brooks' 'official' tackle total for the Bears game was not determined until Monday afternoon. When he was credited with 10 stops by the coaching staff, Brooks was the new record-holder.
The first five years of Brooks' Buccaneer career overlapped with the last seven of Nickerson's, and the two engaged in annual, friendly battles for the season tackle lead each year from 1994 through '99. For awhile, they formed perhaps the most prolific tackling duo in the NFL.
"He set the bar," said Brooks of Nickerson. "He kind of helped me become the professional I am today. I owe a lot to him. There have been a lot of thank you's over the years, and to have my name surpass his is special. I just thank God was able to establish a friendship with him."
Nickerson moved on to the Jacksonville Jaguars after the '99 season, but Brooks has continued to pile on the stats at an incredible rate. In 105 career games, he has averaged almost exactly 10 tackles per game, while also recording 11 interceptions, 12 forced fumbles, 5.5 sacks and 65 passes defensed. It is that first number – 104 games played and none missed in almost seven seasons – that means the most to Brooks, however.
"The first thing it means is that I'm durable," said Brooks of his new record. "Six-and-half years – that's a lot, and I've played a lot of plays. The most important thing, I think, is being able to help turn this franchise around into one of the best. I take more pride in that part than the actual tackle record."
That turnaround was supposed to reach a peak this season with a serious run at the Super Bowl. The Bucs still hope to achieve that goal, but have put themselves in a serious hole with a 4-5 start. That fact serves as a slight damper on Brooks' enthusiasm over his latest achievement.
"We all know I'd trade all those tackles in right now to be sitting in a better position right now," he said wistfully.
The exit of Karl Williams due to a hip injury on Sunday drew more attention, but having Rabih Abdullah sidelined from a concussion may have played a role, in an indirect way, in a game-turning special teams play later in the game.
Trailing 24-16 with nine and a half minutes remaining, the Bucs lined up in punt formation from their own 25, facing a fourth-and-six. After taking the snap, however, punter Mark Royals pulled the ball down and looked to pass on an apparent fake punt. After appearing to not locate the receiver he expected, Royals avoided one rusher and threw a short pass to running back Aaron Stecker, who tried in vain to reach the first down marker.
The play was a bit puzzling in both its timing and execution, but the mystery cleared up somewhat when it was later explained that the other 10 players were not in on Royals' fake attempt.
The Buccaneers actually lined up for the punt with the option of staying with the fake or taking it off. When it became apparent that Chicago's return unit was not aligned in a way that would allow the fake to work, the trick play was called off. Royals never got the word.
On Monday, Head Coach Tony Dungy explained the break down in communication.
"We anticipated punting the ball there, too," he said, after being reminded that the Bucs punted in a somewhat similar situation in Green Bay. "Without going into detail about what we do and what we'll probably do for the next seven weeks, we have situations where we give the guys the option. The personal protector calls for a punt or a fake. We do it quite a bit and, in crucial situations like that, hindsight being 20-20, I probably should have said just punt the ball and we won't worry about it. The chances of us getting the fake look were probably next to zero. But it's something we do all the time, and we usually get the communication to just go ahead and punt the ball."
The issue came down to how the decision was spread among the 11 players on the field after the decision was made. Royals, lined up about 15 yards behind the rest of the team, did not hear the vocal call that alerted the players at the line and didn't receive a hand signal.
"We have an audible call and a signal," said Dungy. "We made the audible call. I heard the audible call on the sideline. The guy who's calling it is facing the other nine guys and he's not facing the punter, so usually we give him the signal and that's what Mark didn't get."
That's where Abdullah could have conceivably come in. The fourth-year running back, who has emerged as perhaps the team's top special teams player this season, has been on the punting unit all season as the 'personal protector,' the one player lined up behind the line who makes the reads and calls for the snap. He was not in on that play after leaving in the first half, but Dungy was not necessarily convinced that it would have made a difference.
"I don't know," said Dungy. "Rabih does it a lot for us and we've done it in the past. Again, just like a break down on the pass, just like a break down in pass protection, just like a muffed punt, those are something that you don't want but we seem to get them at the crucial wrong time."
The same little break downs plagued the Bucs in the red zone on Sunday, but that is an area where the Bucs have had periodic difficulty all season.
After scoring two touchdowns and two field goals in five trips inside Chicago's 20-yard line (the fifth possession ended on a fumble), the Bucs slipped to eighth in the NFC and 15th in the NFL in red zone offense, which is ranked by touchdown efficiency. On 30 red zone drives this season, the Bucs have scored 15 touchdowns and 10 field goals. In the last three games, the Bucs have reached pay dirt on just four of 12 trips inside the 20.
Both times the Bucs got the ball into the end zone on Sunday, they finished the drives with a run, one by Alstott and one by Johnson. However, the team ran 11 plays once it reached the red zone against Chicago, and 11 were passes, ranging from Dunn screens to Keyshawn Johnson fade routes.
"I think our plan has been good, but you have to put it together and you have to execute and you have to do it," said Dungy. "We've probably had some plays that we would call over or call differently knowing the defense that was going to be there. But we had some shots to the end zone and didn't take advantage of it. They hit three long passes and never had to put one in from inside the 10. But we squandered a lot of good field position in the first half and only came away with nine points."
Dungy insisted that it once again came down to execution when the scoring chance was on the line.
"Well, we had a number of situations where we could have scored," he said. "We had a ball on our hands that we can't quite hold on to. We had a guy that gets pushed in the back that should be called pass interference. Frank Murphy has a ball where he could catch it and maybe run out of bounds and get the first down, but we end up in third-and-one. We just misfire on a couple things and it's just a little bit of everything."