First, he makes the QB pay, then he races 30 yards and nails the recipient of a shovel pass.
By ERNEST HOOPER
© St. Petersburg Times, published November 27, 2000
TAMPA -- It may have been the most phenomenal late hit in the history of the NFL.
Bucs linebacker Derrick Brooks corralled Bills quarterback Rob Johnson around the waist and slung him to the ground, effectively knocking Johnson out of the game. But before Brooks could dump Johnson, the quarterback shoveled the ball to running back Shawn Bryson.
Bryson started darting down the field, eluding defenders as he made his way to the right sideline. Just before the Tampa Bay 37-yard line, Bryson was tackled as he stepped out of bounds. Flags flew for a late-hit call.
There were nearly 30 yards between where Bryson was knocked down and where Johnson lay face first, heaving in pain. The man responsible for dropping both was none other than Brooks.
"I wasn't going to run that far and not hit someone," said Brooks, whose performance sparked a defensive domination in Tampa Bay's 31-17 victory.
The Bucs were clinging to a 10-point lead late in the fourth quarter, and the penalty against Brooks helped move the ball within the shadow of the end zone. But none of that really detracted from Brooks' awe-inspiring play. It was like flipping the switch and jumping in bed before the light goes off. Or dialing up a friend on the other side of the street and then answering the telephone on the other end.
"That's just how I am," Brooks said of chasing down Bryson. "It's just resilience. I was determined. That's the mind-set. No matter who has the ball, let's go. I don't believe in giving up. I don't care if I had to chase him to the end zone, I was going to get him."
That one tackle was enough to make people sit up and take notice, but in case fans at Raymond James Stadium didn't see the cross-country connection, they had 19 other Brooks tackles to revel over. The 20 tackles tied a career high for Brooks, and 19 of them were solo stops.
Spectators also could rave about Brooks' forced fumble and fumble recovery.
The forced fumble came at a critical juncture. The Bills faced third and 9 from the Bucs 19-yard line with Tampa Bay leading 10-7. Buffalo receiver Peerless Price snared a Johnson pass and was fighting for extra yards when Brooks stripped the ball.
He handed the ball back to Brian Kelly, who raced 35 yards before officials called the play back at the Bucs 11.
"I had the ball and Brian was there and I handed it to him," Brooks explained. "I said (to the ref), "What's wrong? I gave it to him behind me.' And he said, "I apologize, I blew the whistle.' "
Brooks also came up with a first-quarter sack that gave the Bucs 45 for the season, setting a team record.
"He makes all of our tackles," cornerback Ronde Barber said of Brooks with only a hint of laughter. "When he's playing well, I think the defense as a whole is playing good and that's reflective of what he means to this defense."
Brooks brought out his big-game performance as a manner of inspiring his teammates. The Bucs were staring into the abyss of missing the playoffs after losing to Chicago last week, and Brooks wanted to bring the team out of the doldrums the only way he knew.
"I just felt I'm going to speak with my performance," Brooks said. "That's the only words I know how to say, just go out there and let my teammates see me laying it on the line every down. Hopefully, it'll inspire them and they'll take a look at me and say, "I want to play for that guy' because I'm giving it up for the guy next to me."
For Brooks, this game was about proving to the Bills and fellow Florida State alum and Bills linebacker Sam Cowart who had the best defense. But more important, it was about getting Tampa Bay back on a playoff trek.
"We needed a win like this, especially after a negative cloud tried to float over this team," Brooks said.
Derrick Brooks of the Bucs and Sam Cowart of the Bills had quite a battle until Cowart was injured in the second quarter:
Solo tackles 19/ 4
Assists 1/ 2
Total 20/ 6
Sacks 1/ 2.5
Yards lost 2/ 20.5
Forced fumbles 1/ 0