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Brooks’ Greatest Season

brooks_derrick_SB_634
07/25/2014
Class of 2014 Enshrinee Derrick Brooks enjoyed 14 spectacular seasons with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. The menacing linebacker was an All-Pro choice six times and was elected to an incredible 11 Pro Bowls. But when asked which season was his greatest, there is little doubt that it was the 2002 campaign when Brooks earned Defensive Player of the Year honors while leading the Bucs to their first Super Bowl championship.

Brooks and his Buccaneers were a favorite heading into the 2002 season.  A large reason was due to their talented defense which had earned top ten rankings in each of the past five seasons, three of which among the league’s top three.

With Brooks serving as captain, he led by example while demanding (and receiving) total commitment from his teammates. He started the season with a bang by intercepting four passes for 174 yards and three TDs and had eight passes defensed in the first five games. No linebacker had ever returned three picks for a TD in NFL history, Brooks had set the new precedent in only a matter of weeks.

His pass coverage prowess was amazingly matched by his tackling skills. Brooks registered 10 or more combined tackles in 10 games. His season-high came in a 23-10 victory on Nov. 17 over the Carolina Panthers when he logged 13 solo tackles and three assists. The dominant performance was part of a string of five straight games in which Brooks had 10 or more takedowns

Multiple honors were hurled towards Brooks during the season. In Week 5 he was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week when he contributed 13 tackles (eight solo and five assists), one interception for a TD and two passes defensed during a 20-6 victory at the Atlanta Falcons. That performance along with three more outstanding games in October helped Brooks earn the NFC Defensive Player of the Month Award. During that incredible month in which the Buccaneers posted a 3-1 record, Brooks accumulated 47 combined tackles (26 solo and 21 assists), one interception for a TD and three passes defensed. 

By season’s end the Buccaneers had posted a 12-4 record and won the NFC South Division.  Brooks’ team-high 170 tackles had also helped the Tampa Bay defense rank number one in the NFL. The Buccaneers’ season-long goal, winning the Super Bowl, was now within the team’s grasp. 

With Brooks leading the way, he logged seven combined tackles and one interception in a 31-6 thrashing of the San Francisco 49ers in the NFC Divisional Playoff. The following week in the NFC Championship Game, Brooks again posted seven combined tackles to help the Buccaneers to a gratifying win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the team that had bounced Tampa Bay from the playoffs the two previous seasons. 

In Super Bowl XXXVII, Brooks was the ringleader of a defense that harassed Oakland Raiders quarterback Rich Gannon and the rest of the Oakland offense all game long. The punishing Buccaneers defense limited the Raiders to only 19 yards rushing and intercepted Gannon five times, one of which by Brooks who returned the stolen football 44 yards for a TD. Brooks added three combined tackles and one pass defensed on the day to help the Bucs defeat the Raiders 48-21.

“For the first time I was able to enjoy an individual award and my team shared the ultimate prize,” Brooks later reflected about that championship victory. “I was the best player on defense and our team was the best team in the National Football League.”

During the postgame celebration, Brooks smiled from ear-to-ear as he lifted the Vince Lombardi Trophy over his head. The well-deserved honor capped what was without a doubt the greatest season of his Hall of Fame career.

  Tackles Interceptions Sacks
Date Opponent Result Solo Ast. Comb. No. Yds TD No. PD
Sept. 8 New Orleans L 20-26 8 4 12 1 23 1 0.0 1
Sept. 15 @Baltimore W 25-0 5 1 6 1 97 1 0.0 2
Sept. 23 St. Louis W 26-14 6 2 8 1 39 1 0.0 3
Sept. 29 @Cincinnati W 35-7 7 2 9 0 0 -- 1.0 0
Oct. 6 @Atlanta W 20-6 8 5 13 1 15 1 0.0 2
Oct. 13 Cleveland W 17-3 7 2 9 0 0 -- 0.0 1
Oct. 20 @Philadelphia L 10-20 7 6 13 0 0 -- 0.0 0
Oct. 27 @Carolina W 12-9 4 8 12 0 0 -- 0.0 0
Nov. 3 Minnesota W 38-24 7 4 11 0 0 -- 0.0 0
Nov. 17 Carolina W 23-10 13 3 16 0 0 -- 0.0 1
Nov. 24 Green Bay W 21-7 11 4 15 0 0 -- 0.0 1
Dec. 1 @New Orleans L 20-23 3 2 5 0 0 -- 0.0 1
Dec. 8 Atlanta W 34-10 10 1 11 0 0 -- 0.0 1
Dec. 15 @Detroit W 23-20 3 2 5 0 0 -- 0.0 0
Dec. 23 Pittsburgh L 7-17 11 3 14 0 0 -- 0.0 1
Dec. 29 @Chicago W 15-0 7 4 11 1 44 1 0.0 1
TOTALS     117 53 170 5 218 5 1.0 15
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