Tampa Bay’s seven-time Pro Bowl linebacker was at his best Sunday, using his speed to chase Vick all over the field and help the Buccaneers make one of the NFL’s most exciting players look ordinary for much of the Buccaneers’ 27-0 rout of the Atlanta Falcons.
“I wanted my presence to be felt,” Brooks said. “At any moment he’s carrying the ball, he can either make you look bad or you can put some punishment on him.”
Vick was sacked five times, threw two interceptions and lost two fumbles— and the Bucs (5-7) scored after each of the turnovers to delay the Falcons (9-3) from clinching the NFC South championship.
“We knew they could clinch with a win, and we didn’t want that,” Brooks said. “At the same time, we just wanted to go out and play good football, put a complete game together. For the most part, we did.”
Simeon Rice became the 22nd player to reach 100 sacks, getting Vick on the ground twice and forcing a fumble to set up a touchdown. Rice boosted his career total to 101 in nine seasons, second on the active list behind Michael Strahan’s 118.
But it was Brooks who set the tone for the defense, tipping an ill-advised pass that Dwight Smith intercepted in the end zone and sacking Vick twice and forcing a fumble that led to a field goal.
“They just played very, very well on defense. That’s how Tampa is capable of playing,” Falcons coach Jim Mora said. “They didn’t want us to come down here and win the division on their turf. And they played with that kind of enthusiasm and energy.”
Despite marching to Tampa Bay’s 1-yard line twice and outgaining the Bucs 255-247, Atlanta (9-3) was shut out for the first time since losing 36-0 at St. Louis on Oct. 13, 2003—a game Vick missed because of injury.
Sunday’s loss also ended a four-game winning streak that included a 24-14 victory over the Bucs (5-7) at home three weeks ago.
Vick rushed for 81 yards on eight carries, but was just 13-of-27 passing for 115 yards and two interceptions.
The first pick came after the Falcons drove to a first-and-goal at the Bucs 1. Vick was trying to get the ball to Darnell Sanders crossing the back of the end zone, but Brooks got his hand on it and tipped it to Smith.
“You make 150 decisions a day,” Mora said of throwing on first down. “That was not a very good one, obviously.”
The second interception was just as costly. The Falcons were at the 1 again when Vick’s pass, intended for Peerless Price, was picked off by Brian Kelly, who ran it back 74 yards to set up Mike Alstott’s 1-yard TD run in the closing minutes.
“I’ve got to take my hat off to them, they played a great game. They had a great scheme and we didn’t do enough offensively to win,” Vick said. “We missed some opportunities, had some protection breakdowns and I missed some things I should have seen.”
Brian Griese threw a 36-yard TD pass to Joey Galloway and Michael Pittman scored on a 4-yard run for the Bucs, who rebounded from a seven-point loss at Carolina in which they missed three field goals.
Struggling kicker Martin Gramatica was released during the week and replaced by Jay Taylor, an Arena Football League star who made field goals of 50 and 30 yards in his first NFL regular season game.
Vick left the game for one play in the second quarter after being shaken up when Brooks fell on top on him as the quarterback went into a slide after a 4-yard run to midfield. He returned, but fumbled three plays later when Brooks sacked him, forcing a fumble that Spires recovered at the Bucs 47.
The turnover set up Taylor’s 50-yard field goal for a 13-0 lead. Spires also recovered the fumble that Rice caused on his second sack, and Griese threw his TD pass to Galloway on the next play to make it 20-0.
The loss was Atlanta’s first since a 41-28 setback at Denver on Oct. 31.
“We’re very disappointed, obviously, but we’ll get on to the next one,” Mora said. “That’s what we do after wins. That’s what we do after losses. … I didn’t see a whole lot of positives, but we’ll try to find something and go on.”
The Bucs, who recorded their first shutout since beating Dallas 16-0 on Oct. 26, 2003, also intercepted Vick’s backup, Matt Schaub, once to finish with five turnovers. … Griese was 13-of-21 for 131 yards, one touchdown and one interception. … Falcons TE Alge Crumpler was held to one reception for 5 yards after having four receptions for a career-best 118 yards and a TD in the earlier meeting between the teams.