Brooks Made His Point; Falcons Made None
For 10 seasons, Derrick Brooks has walked the walk. He'll walk into the Hall of Fame. But sometimes he talks, too. He's never very loud about it, but the people who need to hear him hang on every word. Sunday, Brooks stepped into the Bucs' defensive huddle, into his eternal role as heart and soul - and maybe back in time. Eleven tackles, two sacks, two crucial passes defended and one forced fumble later, and still his teammates remembered, more than anything, that the man told them the truth. ``They're not scoring today.''

Classic Brooks. ``His words,'' Dwight Smith said. The final was 27-0. Never mind that the Bucs faced Michael Vick and the 9-2 Falcons, who had a chance to clinch the NFC South. Or that the Bucs were 4-7. Or that the Super Bowl was two seasons ago. Or that people wonder if the Bucs can keep Brooks next season - or should. Brooks hears it. Here was his answer, on a particularly sunny Sunday afternoon.

They're not scoring today. He said it when the Falcons had the ball, wherever they had the ball. He said it in the second quarter, when Atlanta was about 18 inches from a touchdown. They're not scoring today. Then he made a play.

On first-and-goal from the 1, Brooks reached and tipped a Vick pass away from Atlanta hands. Smith grabbed the ball. The rout was on. It kept the Bucs in a season they've often tried to keep out of. But the defense wouldn't allow defeat. Derrick Brooks wouldn't allow it. Jon Gruden made a statement, too. ``Derrick Brooks will be a Buccaneer next year.''

He should be. Do anything less and you might as well close down One Buc Place. Even after losing two right arms - John Lynch to Denver, Warren Sapp to Oakland - Brooks hasn't stopped being Brooks. Some of the talk about his prime being past, and his limited Bucs future, ate at him. He ate back Sunday. ``I got a little angry today,'' Brooks said.

He can still change games. He was everywhere against Atlanta. He went where Vick went, arriving with a purpose. He even knocked the kid from the game for a brief instant when he landed on a sliding Vick. There was no escape. ``I wanted to make my presence felt,'' Brooks said.

He still does it. In so many ways. They're not scoring today. The tip was just the tip-off. Brooks killed the next Atlanta drive, too. With the Falcons at the Bucs 41, he blitzed, closed on Vick and swatted the ball from his throwing hand. Greg Spires recovered.

They're not scoring today. In the fourth quarter, Atlanta had a fourth-and-2 from the Bucs' 20. Vick threw again. Brooks was there in the left flat, knocking the pass down, nearly picking it off. He would have scored if he caught it. ``Should have,'' Brooks said.

Like in 2002. Sunday reminded us of the 2002 game with Atlanta at Raymond James, and with it the 2002 season, when nothing could stop Brooks and the Bucs. He was all over Vick that day. He was all over that season. He was the NFL defensive MVP, a frequent visitor to the end zone, including one in San Diego. This isn't that season. Sunday's win made the Bucs 5-7, not 12-4. The stage they grabbed could be pulled out from under them Sunday in San Diego.

But this was a game to be proud of, and at the center of it was a proud man. Late in the game, Atlanta again reached the Bucs 1. Brian Kelly, having heard Brooks, picked off a Vick pass at the goal line. They're not scoring today. ``Let me tell you what Brooks said,'' said Simeon Rice, another man on fire, with two sacks, including the 100th of his career. ``Brooks said they're not scoring. And he tips the ball - he tips it - and Dwight grabs it. That one tipped pass was real big, because he called his shot. That's Babe Ruth stuff there. He kept saying `No points.' How many points they score?''

None. Like the man said.

Martin Fennelly The Tampa Tribune 6 December 2004