A stand, a dash, a win
The football lay on the turf, like a bag of loot dropped at his feet from the back of a Brinks truck. Derrick Brooks needed only to fall on the fumble by Vikings tight end Jimmy Kleinsasser, something the eight-time Pro Bowl player has been taught since Pop Warner, and one of Sunday's richest opening-day upsets would belong to the Bucs. "That was like deja vu in years' past around here," Bucs coach Jon Gruden said. "The ball was in perfect position for us to recover it."

Fall on it! That's what they yelled from the Bucs sideline and in front of television sets from north of Tampa to south of Tierra Verde. A four-point lead would be protected, Bucs ball at their 23 with two minutes remaining. But the 32-year-old Brooks got greedy, failing to scoop up the ball and giving the Vikings another gasp of air. "After that, I'm calling myself everything but a child of God," Brooks said. "Man, I'm so down at myself. But I happened to look up and see that my teammates, they were ready to go. I called everybody up and told them it was my mistake. Then Simeon (Rice) stepped in and gave us a very emotional speech. Basically, he was saying, "This is what we do. We close out games. We're not letting them in."'

This is what the Bucs will remember from their 24-13 win: When they should've fallen down, the Bucs made another defensive stand. Two plays after Brooks failed to recover the fumble, cornerback Brian Kelly intercepted his second pass from Daunte Culpepper at the Bucs 6 with 1:45 remaining. All that was left was for rookie Carnell "Cadillac" Williams to provide the knockout punch with a 71-yard touchdown run.

In fact, it would have been hard for the Bucs to script a better scenario than Sunday's game at the Metrodome. Williams, the fifth overall pick from Auburn, rushed 27 times for 148 yards, and rookie tight end Alex Smith caught a pair of touchdown passes from Brian Griese. But a bigger story might have been the Bucs defense, which failed to close out games during the team's 12-20 stretch since winning the Super Bowl.

The Bucs forced Culpepper to commit five turnovers, including two of his three interceptions in the final 1:45. Fittingly, Brooks provided the last one with his interception that sealed the outcome with 1:11 left. "You know what that was? That was '02," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "That wasn't '04. In '02, you remember? Brooks intercepted the pass and ran it in against the Raiders. The Raiders and five interceptions. But Brian Kelly did it today."

Not that the Bucs were perfect. On the Vikings' penultimate drive alone, they had to overcome two penalties and two fumbles they didn't recover. Also, two touchdown passes to tight end Jermaine Wiggins were negated by penalties; first on Wiggins' pass interference then on Nate Burleson's block above the waist. But why nitpick when you keep Culpepper and the Vikings offense out of the end zone? A year ago, he was second to Peyton Manning with a quarterback rating of 110.9. But playing without traded receiver Randy Moss, Culpepper was 22-of-33 for 233 yards and three interceptions for a rating of 49.2. "It definitely seemed different," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "Obviously, without Randy, they don't have that guy where he sees an advantage, throws his hands up and he just launches it."

Culpepper said he felt relaxed but never in rhythm against a Bucs defense that disguised its coverages. "I didn't feel I was pressing," Culpepper said. "When things can go bad, they went bad. That's kind of how I felt, almost like a bad episode of the Twilight Zone ."

Culpepper also got little help from the Vikings' rushing attack, which was limited to 26 yards on 16 attempts, 1.6 per carry. "A lot of guys showed resiliency," defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "We just came up with big plays. It's kind of like old times, tight game, fourth quarter, two minutes, the defense on the field."

Kiffin was grinning more than an hour after the game as he watched Brooks wrap up the last round of interviews. "Derrick Brooks? Derrick Brooks! What are you doing? I think ... he wanted to get a pick (because) he wanted to go back out," Kiffin shouted across the locker room about Brooks' nonfumble recovery. "He was working on his stats."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 12 September 2005