Derrick Brooks refused to let Patriot ballcarriers run free on Sunday
Can Derrick Brooks possibly top his 1999 season? He's off to a good start
In any given season, the question is difficult to answer.
Who's the best linebacker in the NFL? Ray Lewis, Kevin Hardy, Jessie Armstead, Derrick Brooks? Let's just say none of them would be voted off the island before the finale.
For at least one week, though, we have an answer. Brooks, Tampa Bay's roving tackling machine, was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week on Wednesday following a stellar effort in the Bucs' season-opening win at New England. It is his second such award in the last two seasons.
Brooks, who finished fourth in the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year balloting in 1999, has hardly left himself any room for improvement. Yet, with his former Pro Bowl running mate, MLB Hardy Nickerson, now in Jacksonville and the Bucs sporting two new starters up the middle of the defense, Brooks appeared to turn his play up yet another notch to start 2000. The result was a singular performance in Foxboro that was as responsible for the Bucs' 21-16 victory as any other factor.
Besides one fourth-quarter gaffe that led to a long Terry Glenn touchdown reception, the Buccaneers defense allowed New England almost no success all day Sunday, and Brooks' 14 tackles, one forced fumble and one pass defensed were at the center of that effort. As usual, Brooks was a force at seemingly every corner of the field.
Case in point. In the first quarter, after WR Troy Brown had fooled the Bucs on a reverse and gained 35 yards to get into Buccaneer territory, the Patriots were threatening to extend their 3-0 lead. On the next play, Brooks knifed through New England's front wall and trapped RB Kevin Faulk for a one-yard loss on a run off right guard. On the next snap, QB Drew Bledsoe dropped into the pocked then dumped off over the middle to Faulk, but Brooks was there, too, combining with S John Lynch to stop the back before he could get a first down. That was a crucial play, as DT Warren Sapp's sack on the next snap ended the scoring threat.
Two weeks earlier, Faulk had bust through the middle of the Buccaneers' defense for a 55-yard touchdown run in a preseason game, an effort that helped win the young running back a starting spot and a featured role against the Bucs in the regular-season opener. Bledsoe repeatedly fed the second-year player, handing off to Faulk 10 times and throwing to him 11 more. The Patriots clearly expected Faulk to eventually break one loose, as he had before. The wrench in that plan: Derrick Brooks.
Brooks was usually at the end of Faulk's runs and catches, and he helped hold the scatback to 2.1 yards per carry and 5.6 yards per reception. None of Faulk's plays went for more than 10 yards. On one Faulk reception that picked up nine yards, a blitzing Brooks was actually behind the play, but he caught up to Faulk from behind and popped the ball loose, causing a fumble that S John Lynch recovered. The Bucs scored the clinching touchdown four plays later.
Of course, there were plenty of other typical Brooks moments in the game – such as the play near the end of the third quarter when, as he attempted to cover TE Eric Bjornson on a crossing route over the middle, he stumbled and began to fall just as the pass was headed to Bjornson. Somehow, and it's unclear just how even on videotape, Brooks manages to lunge back up from his fall and tip the ball away just before it reaches Bjornson's hands for a first down.
Not all of them need detailed description, though. Much of Brooks' day was yeoman's work, play after play that draw little attention because he is such a sure tackler. Still, Brooks' overall effort on Sunday was clearly attention-grabbing, as it certainly drew the gaze of the NFL's league office. Derrick Brooks, NFC Defensive Player of the Week, Week One. Could that be the first in a series of awards in 2000?