Healthier Defense Dooms Falcons
''Doom.'' That's all Warren Sapp heard. That's all he had to hear. ''Doom.'' That's what Derrick Brooks calls Sapp, his training camp roommate. It's a nickname. Late in Sunday's 20-6 victory against the Falcons, it became something more. It became a signal, one that Sapp interpreted to mean that Brooks was coming up from behind and was in position to make a play. And what a play it was. After grabbing a ball that had bounced out of quarterback Doug Johnson's hands and into midair, Sapp lateraled to Brooks, who ran in from 15 yards out for the touchdown that sealed the Falcons' fate. ``I heard 'Doom,' and I knew Brooks was 2 yards back,'' Sapp said, ``so I just flipped it to him.''

The touchdown was Brooks' third of the season. Mike Alstott, Joe Jurevicius and Keenan McCardell lead the offense in that category with two each. Skill has played a part in getting him there, but not as much as improved health has. No longer hampered by the foot sprain that robbed him of his effectiveness, Brooks is playing some of the best football of his career. So is Sapp. His interception was the second of his career, and while he didn't record a sack Sunday, he still leads the Bucs in that department with four. ``We're healthy,'' Sapp said of himself and Brooks. ``And when we're healthy, we're on.''

The same can be said for the Bucs' defense. The four-game stretch it completed Sunday is the best it's ever had. The unit has surrendered just two touchdowns while scoring four during that span. ``We have some deadly bullets on this team, and we're going out and shooting right now,'' Sapp said. ``Coach [Jon Gruden] says there should be an investigation 'cause it looks like there's 12 of us out there right now.''

It only took one player to really turn Sunday's game around. When Simeon Rice knocked Michael Vick out with a shoulder injury, Doug Johnson replaced him and the Falcons' fate was all but decided, Sapp said. ``Once we got Vick out of the game, we could go back to our old style of playing again, where we're going after the passer and rushing straight at him,'' Sapp said. ``You can't do that with Vick in there; he's too dangerous. But after he was out, it was just shooting arrows. [Doug Johnson] ain't going to beat us.''

The way the Bucs' defense is playing, it's possible no one will.

The Tampa Tribune October 2002