LB Derrick Brooks, who had a key interception in New Orleans, hopes the Bucs can continue to create turnovers on Sunday
Even though the Buccaneers and Falcons have met seven times previously in the 1990s, Tampa Bay was not on Atlanta's schedule last year when the Jamal Anderson-led Falcons made their surprise run to the Super Bowl. The Bucs will still not face Anderson, as a first-week knee injury felled the running back star for the season this time around, but Tampa Bay is not expecting the 2-7 Falcons to be punchless.
"Until you knock the champions off the pedestal," said LB Derrick Brooks. "They're still the champions."
Of course, Brooks can be much more specific about the potential explosiveness he sees in the Falcons. "Tim Dwight has been making some big plays for them," said Brooks. "Terance Mathis is having a solid season and Chris Chandler can hurt you when he gets hot, like he did for awhile in the Pittsburgh game (three weeks ago).
"There were three upsets last week," added Brooks, "where a team with a losing record went on the road and won."
The Bucs faced a team with a winning record at home last week, but were able to down the Kansas City Chiefs despite six turnovers by the offense. Though the Tampa Bay attack was strong the entire game, those six giveaways short-circuited most of the team's scoring opportunities and left the game in the hands of the defense on repeated occasions. The Buc defense responded by helping the team become just the fourth this decade to win a game in which it committed six turnovers.
"We grew up another notch last week," said Brooks. "We accepted the challenge (of overcoming six turnovers) and hit it in the mouth. Now we feel like we're in a rhythm defensively. The Detroit game (10/31) was a wake-up call for us. We thought we were ready for them, but we didn't get the job done. The last couple of weeks, we've been bringing the wood, knocking guys back."
The Buccaneer defense has actually descended to fifth in the overall NFL rankings since standing at the top after the first three weeks of the season. Nevertheless, Tampa Bay is more pleased of its recent play. "At the beginning of the year," said Head Coach Tony Dungy, "our defensive guys felt that they weren't hot. In the last couple of games – giving up one touchdown per game, getting turnovers, creating field position – those guys feel like they're getting hot at the right time."
Not exactly buried in that analysis by Dungy is the team's desire to create turnovers. The Bucs managed a meager six takeaways through their first seven games, but have matched that total over the last two Sundays with three takeaways each against the Saints and Chiefs. The Falcons may be a perfect opponent for a Buc defense looking to take the ball away: Atlanta's offense has committed 21 turnovers and the Falcons are minus-10 in turnover ratio. The only team in the NFL with a worse ratio is the Buccaneers themselves, at minus-13.
Though turnovers are sometimes seen as largely a matter of chance, Buccaneer DE Chidi Ahanotu disagrees. "You can get interceptions," he said emphatically. "You can hit the quarterback and make him drop the ball. There are some things you can control. We need to add that aspect to our game. We can hold a team's running game to 27 yards, pat ourselves on the back and say 'good job.' But if we're not creating opportunities for the team, we're not playing at the level we want to."