K Matt Bryant and LB Derrick Brooks shook hands before the game on Sunday, then proceeded to play key roles in the Buccaneers' 30-21 win
Matt Bryant showed incredible courage. Derrick Brooks showed there was still plenty of life left in his veteran legs. And the NFL showed that people were paying attention.
On Wednesday, Bryant and Brooks were honored by the league as the NFC Special Teams and Defensive Players of the Week, respectively. The two Tampa Bay Buccaneer standouts were honored for their roles in the Bucs' 30-21 victory over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday.
Perhaps the Special Teams award will provide some additional comfort to Bryant, who played in the Packers game as a tribute to his infant son, Tryson. Tryson Bryant tragically passed away last Wednesday and the Bryant family conducted his funeral on Saturday in Texas.
Bryant elected to play in Sunday's game as a way to honor his son, and did just that by hitting all three of his field goal attempts as well as a trio of extra points. Bryant's 23-yard field goal late in the fourth quarter proved to be the game-winner, giving the home team a 23-21 lead that was later padded by Earnest Graham's touchdown run.
Quarterback Brian Griese called Bryant's efforts on Sunday "the story of the day." The team rallied around their bereaved kicker throughout the week and on game day, and he responded with a perfect performance against the Packers. Bryant later said he knew going into the game that he was going to make all of his kicks.
"I just don't know how you progress through something like that," said Griese after the game. "I guess everybody is different and I think it may have been therapeutic today for Matt, I'm not sure. I couldn't be happier for a guy that has meant so much to our team. I just think it [was] a big day for him and a big day for us."
Brooks made several of the key plays that put the Bucs in position to win it on Bryant's final field goal. On the first play of the second quarter, with Tampa Bay trailing 7-0, Brooks responded quickly to a pass that deflected off running back Brandon Jackson, snatching the ball out of the air for an interception in Packer territory. Six plays later, Alex Smith scored on a nine-yard catch to tie the game.
The Packers started at their own 11 after the ensuing kickoff and on first down Brooks shot through the line and tackled running back Ryan Grant for a loss of six. Brooks then nearly intercepted another Aaron Rodgers pass on the next snap; after another incompletion the Packers had to punt from their own five and the resulting field position of the Green Bay 41 allowed the Bucs to add a field goal and take the lead.
The Bucs were leading 13-7 in the third quarter when Brooks came up big again. He tackled Grant for a loss of two at the Green Bay 38, forcing a fumble in the process. Safety Jermaine Phillips plucked the loose ball off the turf and ran 38 yards for a touchdown.
Brooks finished the game with five tackles, two tackles for loss, one forced fumble, one interception and three passes defensed. It was his best performance so far in a season in which he had previously been slowed by a hamstring injury.
"He played a great game for us," said Head Coach Jon Gruden a day later. "He created some splash plays that really turned the game around for us. Inspiring play, leaderâ€¦he was great for us. I was really pleased to see him moving around better. I think he felt much better than he has in previous weeks. That's a good sign for us."
The two awards were the first Player of the Week honors for the Buccaneers this season, but not the first in Bryant's career. He was the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in Week Seven of the 2006 season, after his memorable 62-yard game-winning field goal against Philadelphia. Bryant also won the award twice with the New York Giants in 2002, and was the NFC Special Teams Player of the Month last December.
This award is not new to Brooks, either, though it is the first he has taken home in four years. The 10-time Pro Bowler has been named the conference's Defensive Player of the Week on five other occasions, once each in 1999, 2000, 2001, 2002 and 2004. He also has two Player of the Month honors on his resume, winning in December of 2000 and October of 2002. In 2002, Brooks was named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year at the end of the season.