Four turnovers, big hit leave QB beaten, bruised
Take a look at the new face of quarterbacking in the NFL. It belongs to Michael Vick, and there is a speed bump growing on his forehead. The ugly welt swelled like a bag of microwave popcorn Sunday after the Falcons star was belted between the eyes by Derrick Brooks at the end of a 4-yard scramble in the second quarter. Earlier in the game, Brooks pulled up when he believed Vick was running out of bounds. Instead, Vick cut inside for more yards. "He said, "I set you up for that one,' " Brooks said. "I said, "All right, no more Mr. Nice Guy."'

And that was the story of the Bucs' 27-0 victory over the NFC South-leading Falcons. First, the Bucs got in Vick's face. Then they got into his head. Tampa Bay intercepted Vick twice and forced two fumbles (both recovered by Greg Spires), scoring 20 points off his turnovers. Brooks delivered the biggest blows. The seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker had two sacks, forced a fumble and tipped a pass that was intercepted in the end zone by safety Dwight Smith to lead the Bucs to their ninth shutout in team history.

Facing a relentless pass rush led by Simeon Rice, who recorded his 100th and 101st sacks, Vick completed 13 of 27 for 115 yards for a passer rating of 29.1, third-lowest in his career. "The guy needs to take care of himself. He's going to have a short career," Ronde Barber said. "You can't treat this guy like a quarterback. He is by far one of the best runners in the game. You've got to pound him when you get the opportunity."

The victory, Tampa Bay's first over a team with a winning record this season, improved it to 5-7, tied with the Panthers, Lions, Bears and Giants at a game behind the final wild-card spot. It also prevented the Falcons (9-3) from clinching the NFC South. Jay Taylor, who was signed Tuesday to replace Martin Gramatica, made a 50-yard field goal on his first attempt and a 30-yarder at the end of the first half and was perfect on three extra points. "It was great, wasn't it? I was kind of thinking, "Why's he coming out on the field. That's a 50-yard field goal, isn't it?' " Brian Griese said. "It was great for him. It was great for our team, and hopefully, he can build on that."

Joey Galloway, who sprained his right ankle last week, led the Bucs with four receptions for 63 yards, including a 36-yard touchdown for a 20-0 lead 4:58 into the third quarter. Fullback Mike Alstott ended the scoring with a 5-yard run with 1:55 left in the game. Alstott's touchdown came after cornerback Brian Kelly snuffed the Falcons' final scoring chance by intercepting Vick in the end zone and returning it 75 yards.

But Brooks' tipped pass on the third play of the second quarter set the tone. Trailing 7-0, the Falcons had a first and goal at the 1. They had run the ball three times for 27 yards during the drive. But offensive coordinator Greg Knapp called for a play-action pass to Dez White. Brooks read the play, got a hand up and tipped the ball to Smith for the interception. "You make about 60 offensive, 60 defensive and about 30 special teams plays. That is about 150 decisions a day," Falcons coach Jim Mora said. "And that was not a very good one."

When the drive started, at midfield after Josh Bidwell punted from the end zone, Brooks gathered the defense in the huddle and repeated,"No points!" "That one tipped pass was real big because he called the shot there," Rice said. "That's a Babe Ruth-type shot there. He spoke his words, and his physical actions, everything happened as planned. He said, "No points.' He kept saying that all day."

Brooks set up Taylor's second field goal with 1:06 left in the half when he poked the football free from Vick. "He starts scrambling around in the pocket, and he's real insecure with the ball sometimes," Barber said. "He's kind of unconscious in that sense. He knows he's going to make some plays. But if you get after the ball, you can create some turnovers." It was the Bucs' first shutout since 16-0 against Dallas on Oct. 26, 2003. "They're hard to get, especially (against) Michael Vick," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. "Wow! But our guys just played hard. We always say with Michael Vick, "You've just got to stay alive, stay alive.' If you miss him the first time, just stick around. He'll come back around again."

Vick has experienced days such as Sunday's before. In a 20-6 Bucs victory Oct.6, 2002, Rice's hit early in the second half forced Vick out of the game with a sprained shoulder. Then in a 34-10 Bucs victory Dec. 8, 2002, Vick was 12-of-25 for 125 yards, a touchdown and an interception and rushed only five times for 15 yards. Brooks put a crushing hit on Vick early in that game, too. Sunday, Vick attempted to slide at the end of his second-quarter scramble before Brooks ripped the helmet from his head. He sat on the turf for several minutes, left the game for a play and spent his time on the sideline with an ice bag pressed to his forehead. "I saw him walking off to the sideline, and he was dizzy," Kelly said. "Derrick did that a couple of years ago. He sets the tone for us when we play Vick."

As he walked through the Falcons locker room Sunday, Vick turned to a teammate and asked a question. "Did you see the knot on my head?"

Rick Stroud The St.Petersburg Times 6 December 2004