Coming out on top
Michael Vick was playing like he ducked into a phone booth and emerged as a superhero Sunday against the Bucs. Leave it to Derrick Brooks to be the one to tug on his cape. The linebacker blitzed Vick and helped force a fumble with just more than a minute left, setting up Matt Bryant's 45-yard field goal to give Tampa Bay a 30-27 win over the Falcons in an NFC South matchup.

Brooks, who saves some of his best performances for Vick, had faked that blitz on several occasions but waited until the weary Bucs defense needed to be rescued. Cadillac Williams had tied the score at 27 with a 9-yard run with 1:55 left. But that appeared to be too much time left for Vick and the Falcons, who ravaged the Bucs defense for 443 yards, the most it has allowed this season.

Timing the snap count and leaping over running back Warrick Dunn, Brooks helped cause the fumble, and Shelton Quarles recovered at the Atlanta 34 with 1:07 left. "Sometimes, I fake, and teams don't think I'm coming because I'm normally covering," Brooks said. "(Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin) told me before the series, "Get ready to blitz,' and I did. As soon as the ball was snapped, (Dunn) stepped up, so I left my feet. I got a good jump on the snap count. In the melee, while I'm jumping over Warrick and he's coming forward, the ball came loose, and thank God Shelton (Quarles) recovered it."

The victory improved the Bucs to 7-3 and moved them into a first-place tie in the division with Carolina, which lost 13-3 at Chicago. The Bucs host the Bears (7-3) on Sunday. Vick, who passed for more than 300 yards for only the second time, and the Falcons (6-4) lost their second straight home game. Brooks said he was not sure if he got a hand on the ball or if he knocked Dunn into the quarterback. The only fact Vick was certain of was the outcome. "I don't know if Warrick hit the ball or if Derrick Brooks hit the ball," Vick said. "We fought back. We were able to make plays. We just didn't win the game. That's what matters most."

Bryant, who is 14-of-16 on field goals this season, made the winning kick with 42 seconds left. That was enough time for Vick to drive the Falcons to the Bucs 37 with five seconds left. Michael Koenen's 55-yard field goal on the final play had enough distance but was wide right. It was the third consecutive game the Bucs defense looked vulnerable, having given up 34 points in a loss to Carolina and 35 in a win over the Redskins in their previous two games. The Falcons outgained the Bucs by 185 yards and held the ball for 36:02 to the Bucs' 23:58, including 21:15 to 8:45 in the second and third quarters. "The only stat in this game that matters is W's and L's," defensive tackle Anthony McFarland said. "Right now, we've got a couple of W's in a row, and we're 7-3. We don't like shootouts, but we like W's. If we can have shootouts and get a W, I'll take that every week."

Brooks' play was not the only one that hurt the Falcons. With Vick leaving the game after being shaken up, Simeon Rice sacked backup Matt Schaub and forced a fumble in the end zone that McFarland recovered for his first touchdown. That helped the Bucs build a 13-0 hole for the Falcons. "I can't remember a time when we've given up about 100 points in three games," cornerback Ronde Barber said. "You never want to say it's a shift in philosophy or even the way we're playing. We'll still hold our standards (high) on this side of the ball. It's just nice knowing when we don't live up to them, the offense will go out and make some plays for us."

Williams did just that. The rookie rushed for 116 yards - 34 more than his previous four games combined. Joey Galloway, who entered third in the league in receiving yards and touchdowns, was held without a catch for the second time this season. But quarterback Chris Simms, who went 11-of-19 for 118 yards and an interception, did just enough to bring the Bucs from behind twice.

That set the stage for Brooks, who stopped Vick on the Tampa Bay 2 to force the Falcons to settle for a field goal that tied it at 20 2:03 into the fourth quarter. The Falcons had converted their previous six third downs. "It's vintage Derrick Brooks in a big game, making a big play to help us find a way to win," coach Jon Gruden said. "Although it wasn't pretty at times, it's a spectacular feeling for all of us to come out of here with a win."

Rick Stroud, The St.Petersburg Times 21 November 2005