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Defense limps into playoffs

Derrick Brooks, who has a right shoulder sprain, leads a long line into the Bucs trainer's room.

By RICK STROUD

© St. Petersburg Times, published December 27, 2000


TAMPA -- Derrick Brooks has knocked plenty of ballcarriers out of games, but his next routine tackle might be vicious enough to sideline him for the playoffs.

"I guess he could get hit the first play of the game and be out like he was (Sunday against the Packers) or make it through and not have a problem," Bucs coach Tony Dungy said Tuesday.

Brooks had an MRI exam Tuesday on a right shoulder sprain that forced him to leave Sunday's game at Green Bay in the second quarter. By the end of the Bucs' 17-14 overtime loss, Brooks said, the strength in the arm had returned.

The status of the four-time Pro Bowl linebacker was not expected to be known until later in the week. But Brooks, who has never missed a game in five pro seasons (he has played in 100 straight), does not expect to be a spectator for Sunday's NFC wild-card game against the Eagles at Veterans Stadium.

"It's got nothing to do with my legs. I've got to practice to get ready to go," he said. "It's going to take a lot to keep me out of this game. You work all year long to get in this situation here."

Brooks' injury is problematic for an already beaten up linebacking corps. Starter Jamie Duncan had an MRI exam for a right knee sprain sustained in overtime Sunday. Al Singleton, who has missed three games with a knee sprain, could make it back for Sunday's game. Meanwhile, the Bucs got more bad news on the injury front on defense.

Defensive end Marcus Jones, fourth in the NFC in sacks with 13, has a left foot sprain and was wearing a protective boot to keep the foot immobilized. His backup, defensive end Steve White, is trying to recover from a hip pointer.

But when it comes to the post-season, Brooks knows injuries have a way of healing faster.

"We're not going to let you off the hook, whether it's a little nick on your shoulder," defensive tackle Warren Sapp said. "And I'm going to have to shoot Brooks for him not to play.

"It's time. It's money time. You work all year long to get to this point. There's 19 teams begging, crying, pleading and whatever they can do to get a recount."

Estimating the impact of Brooks' injury is hard, but the injury served to highlight the Bucs' depth at linebacker. Veterans Jeff Gooch, Don Davis and rookie Nate Webster had good games against the Packers.

"Jeff and Don went in and did a very admirable job," Brooks said. "Coming out of the cold. It goes to show you never know when you're in. We like to brag on our depth. We're an instrumental part of the defense and an instrumental part of the special teams. It's something we don't get a lot of credit for. But we know we are a very important part of this team."

Apparently, Brooks' shoulder began giving him problems several weeks ago, and he aggravated it Sunday.

"It's kind of an on-and-off thing that comes up," Brooks said. "You really don't pay it no mind and keep playing. On Sunday I made a tackle, and I got up and couldn't move it. It started coming back toward the end of the game; I started to have my strength back. It's one of those things we're evaluating, and we'll see how it feels on Sunday as far as playing."

If Brooks is unable to play, the Bucs' post-season hopes could be crippled. Not only has he had more than 180 tackles the past three seasons, he is responsible for making the defensive calls in the huddle.

"We're just going to have to see how that goes," Dungy said. "He's got really a shoulder sprain, and if he gets hit in the right way, it's painful. He's had it for several weeks and has gone through most of the games without getting it hit to that extent at the right angle where he's had to come out of the game."

A win at Green Bay would have given the Bucs the NFC Central title, a bye week and at least one home playoff game. Instead, Tampa Bay starts on the road, where it is 0-4 in the post-season. But Dungy said it's time to move forward.

"We've got to go into Philadelphia and win. You can't really think about what might happen the week after that or where you might go," he said. "The playoffs are a one-game knockout, so you have to put all your energy into winning this week and getting ready for Philadelphia.

"You just have to go and play better than the other teams. We've gone into some tough places. What's happened in the past, the fact that we've gone to Green Bay and lost and St. Louis and lost, I don't think that has any bearing on what happens in the future."

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