Warren Sapp (right) led a swarming Bucs defense that included many candidates for individual honors
Warren Sapp, reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, has his opinion on who the best player on the Bucs' fearsome defense is: LB Derrick Brooks.
Brooks and Sapp each finished in the top five in the defensive player of the year balloting last season, and each opened the 2000 season as if they wanted to share the award this year. Brooks, Sapp and the rest of the Tampa Bay defense was stifling in the season opener at New England last Sunday, and the league took notice. On Wednesday, Brooks was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week, taking that honor for the second time in the last two years (also Week 7, 1999).
It was a different, if not necessarily conflicting, scene in the Bucs' locker room on Monday. That afternoon, the team awarded a game ball to Sapp, not Brooks, recognizing the big lineman's constant presence in the Patriots' backfield. As any of the people in that room would attest, either honor could have gone to a number of Buccaneers.
"As we told our guys, sometimes it's tougher to get a game ball than to be the defensive player of the week," said Dungy, who has seen members of his team win that award six times since last September. "We had some outstanding performances, and Derrick was certainly one. To make that many tackles, cause a turnover and play that big, it's a well-deserved honor."
Brooks had 14 tackles (according to coaches' film, 15 on the play-by-play), one forced fumble and one pass defensed. He consistently bottled up RB Kevin Faulk, and set up the Bucs' final touchdown by forcing Faulk to fumble late in the third quarter.
Sapp, meanwhile, had six tackles of his own, including 1.5 sacks and two other tackles for loss. He kept QB Drew Bledsoe on the run or on the ground for much of Sunday afternoon. Still, he believes the league honor went to a deserving player.
"He is (the best player on the defense), no doubt about it," said Sapp. "I tell him, you get us to third down and I'll take it from there. We work together well as a team, all 11 of us, but he's the best we got.
"He didn't even win the game ball from us, so I guess our standards are a little bit higher around here. But we'll take all the praise we can get for this whole ballclub, because all of us played well. He deserved it with 15 tackles, put a lot of people on the ground and did a bunch of great things for us that helped us win that ballgame."
Brooks was pleased that the NFL's decision would draw attention to the Bucs' defense.
"It's a tremendous honor," he said. "It's a lot tougher to get the game ball. My teammates had a fine ballgame, and my performance was just one of many. I think if someone can win that award every week from this ballclub, that means we're playing very good football on defense."