Derrick Brooks' second interception sealed the Bucs' win over Chicago
As every Buccaneer fan knows, DT Warren Sapp was recently named the NFL's Defensive Player of the Year. LB Derrick Brooks also earned votes for that award, was chosen by an area media panel as the team's MVP and is currently starting alongside Sapp in the Pro Bowl. Four other Bucs have joined those two in Hawaii and the team had a franchise-best four AP All-Pro first-teamers.
Those awards, and others, are indicative of the outstanding season the Buccaneers put together in 1999, particularly on defense. In advancing to within minutes of its first Super Bowl, the team clearly got superior seasons from many of its core players. But let's narrow the focus to pose this question: Who had the single best game performance by a Buccaneer in 1999?
That's what Buccaneers.com asked its users, many of whom followed the 1999 season closely. Through a series of six polls used to narrow down the field, the choice was made from among 25 outstanding efforts. That honor went to Brooks, who was dominant against Chicago on October 24, leading the Bucs to a 6-3 victory.
Tampa Bay entered it's Week 7 home game against the Bears with a 2-3 record and an offense that was struggling to get on track. They left with a .500 mark thanks to a defense that held the NFL's eighth-ranked offense to just 275 yards and one field goal. Brooks keyed the tight victory by recording 13 tackles and two interceptions, the last of which stopped the Bears at midfield with 45 seconds remaining.
It was the type of effort that has earned Brooks his reputation as one of the league's best and most versatile linebackers, a day when he was making plays at all corners of the field. "I feel like it was one of the top performances of my career," said Brooks, speaking from Honolulu, where he is preparing for his third consecutive Pro Bowl. "Sometimes you get in a zone and just make plays. I was fortunate to be in a position to make a lot of plays in that game, and I was able to do it. My interceptions came at crucial times…I had the turnover at the end of the game, so that was big."
Brooks actually broke up four passes in that game, an astounding feat for a linebacker, but not out of the ordinary for this rangy athlete. Brooks broke up at least two passes twice five times in 1999 en route to a career-best 20 passes defensed. He also finished the season with four interceptions.
Buccaneers.com ran a five-part series of daily polls pitting five individual efforts against each other to produce five finalists for the deciding poll. Brooks was actually represented twice in the final five, as his 17-tackle effort against the St. Louis Rams in the NFC Championship Game was also chosen as the best of a preliminary group. The sixth-year Florida State product indicated that he listed that game among his best ever as well. Though the Buccaneers fell just short in that game, losing 11-6 in St. Louis' Trans World Dome, Tampa Bay's defense put together a tackling clinic in holding the Rams to one-third of their 33-points-per game average.
FB Mike Alstott, CB Donnie Abraham and S John Lynch also put up single-game labors that made the final five.
Though it didn't rank as one of his most prolific rushing games of 1999, Alstott turned the tide in a battle for first place with Detroit by scoring two fourth quarter touchdowns. On December 12, with the Buccaneers trailing 16-9 and less than 10 minutes remaining in the game, Tampa Bay's bruising fullback converted a tense third-and-goal from the one-yard line by diving up the middle for the game-tying score. Five minutes later, Alstott broke that tie with a receiving touchdown, catching a screen pass from QB Shaun King and weaving 22 yards through the Lions defense for the game-winner.
Lynch's selected effort was also in that crucial Lions' contest, as he combined nine tackles with a key interception. In fact, Lynch's pick near midfield, which he returned 28 yards to the Detroit 24, was the turnover that produced Alstott's second touchdown.
Abraham's nominated outing came just six days before those two, as his eye-opening two-interception, five-passes-defensed contribution earned the Bucs a 24-17 win over Minnesota in another battle for first place. Abraham set the tone for Tampa Bay's victory early, leaping to intercept a Jeff George pass on a corner blitz on the third play of the game and returning it 55 yards for a touchdown. Abraham continued to get in the way of George's passes all day, including one in the end zone in the second quarter that the Buc defensive back intercepted to keep his team up by 10 points.
In the Buccaneers.com poll, Abraham's effort received just a little less support than Brooks' top-rated Chicago game, while Lynch was also a close third with his work against Detroit. Clearly, Buccaneer fans had a difficult time choosing between these outstanding afternoons in a season full of thrilling performances. That is certainly a good problem to have.