Derrick Brooks, one of the most decorated linebackers of his era, has helped the Bucs allow the league's fewest points since 1997
The New England Patriots qualified for their second Super Bowl in three seasons by holding an Indianapolis team that had scored 79 points in its last two games to just two touchdowns, prevailing 24-14.
Though Peyton Manning and the Colts were red-hot heading into Foxboro on Sunday, the game's result was not a complete shock; after all, New England led the NFL in scoring defense during the regular season, allowing just 238 points in 16 games, or 14.9 points per contest.
The Patriots' Super Bowl XXXVIII opponent, Carolina, finished 10th in the NFL in scoring defense, allowing 19 points per game. In three playoff contests, the Panthers allowed just 36 points, or 12 per game.
The Buccaneers are certainly familiar with the formula connecting scoring defense to the Super Bowl. Last year, the Bucs won Super Bowl XXXVII behind the league's top scoring defense, as Tampa Bay allowed just 196 points during the regular season. In fact, the Bucs' scoring defense has been so good for so long that it lends hope to the idea that Tampa Bay will be able to follow New England's lead and return to the big game after one down year.
Since 1997, when the Buccaneers broke a string of 14 straight seasons out of the playoffs, their defense has not only ranked in the top 10 in yards allowed every year but has been the toughest unit to score against. And it's not particularly close.
NFL Fewest Points Allowed Since 1997*
|Team||Total Points Allowed|
*List does not include Cleveland and Houston since they have not been in the league every year since 1997
In their 112 regular season games from 1997-2003, the Buccaneers have allowed an average of 16.1 points.
Brooks in Elite Company
The 2003 season is over for 30 of the league's 32 teams, but there is still one game remaining for several dozen players not known as Panthers or Patriots.
A week after Super Bowl XXXVIII, on February 8, the NFL's brightest stars will gather in Honolulu for the Pro Bowl, the NFL's annual all-star game. As has been the case for each of the last seven years, Buccaneer LB Derrick Brooks will be among those men.
Brooks, along with DT Warren Sapp (who will not play in the game due to injury), received a seventh straight Pro Bowl bid this year, which set a Tampa Bay franchise record. It also made Brooks one of the most decorated men at his position of this era and one of the most respected linebackers in league history.
Only 10 other NFL linebackers have made seven or more Pro Bowl appearances. Of those 10, only Miami's Junior Seau is still active. Six of those 10 linebackers finished their careers before the 1990s. Below is the complete list.
NFL Linebackers Named to Seven or More Pro Bowls
|Robert Brazile||Houston (1975-1984)||7|
|Derrick Brooks||Tampa Bay (1995-)||7|
|Harry Carson||N.Y. Giants (1976-1988)||9|
|Randy Gradishar||Denver (1974-1983)||7|
|Jack Ham||Pittsburgh (1971-1982)||8|
|Ted Hendricks||Balt./GB/Oak/LA (1969-1983)||8|
|Jack Lambert||Pittsburgh (1974-1984)||9|
|Junior Seau||San Diego/Miami (1990-)||12|
|Mike Singletary||Chicago (1981-1992)||10|
|Lawrence Taylor||N.Y. Giants (1981-1993)||10|
|Derrick Thomas||Kansas City (1989-1999)||9|
Quarterback Brad Johnson set a franchise record for passing yards in a single-season, throwing for 3,811 yards, or 238.2 per game. Though one of his receivers, Keenan McCardell, made the Pro Bowl, Johnson got to his record total by spreading the ball around to an almost unprecedented number of targets.
From McCardell (84 catches) to Darian Barnes (one), Johnson got the football to 18 different men in the passing game, including seven receivers, six running backs, four tight ends and, yes, one defensive tackle. In 16 games, seven different men led the team in receptions at least once.
Not counting the 1987 strike season, in which a completely different roster of men played three early-season games, the Bucs have never had more than 18 different players catch at least one pass in a season. The 1986 team did equal that figure, with Steve DeBerg and Steve Young throwing to the likes of James Wilder, Jimmie Giles and Vince Heflin.
Injuries obviously played a part in this variety of pass-catching options, as the team scrambled to replace the contributions of WR Joe Jurevicius and TE Rickey Dudley for much of the season. The deactivation of WR Keyshawn Johnson for the last six games also opened up some opportunities for younger players. In the end, however, it was a testament to Johnson's steady hand – and, obviously, some fine coaching – that the offense continued to thrive without relying on just a few go-to guys.