Friday, November 24, 2017
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Fennelly: Derrick Brooks goes bold on Bucs: 11-5 record, division winners

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Twenty years ago, the Bucs broke out.

They opened the 1997 season with a stunning, tell-the-world 13-6 victory at home over Steve Young, Jerry Rice and the San Francisco 49ers.

What a day. Warren Sapp was a man on fire with 11 tackles and 21/2 of the Bucs' seven sacks. Both Young and Rice were knocked from the game.

Second-year Bucs coach Tony Dungy and his team made a statement that afternoon, one that carried over from a strong finish in 1996, and it led the Bucs to the playoffs for the first time since 1982.

The Bucs open their season Sunday against the Bears.

It's time for another statement.

Bucs Hall of Fame linebacker Derrick Brooks has one for the 2017 Bucs.

"I'm pretty bold, man," Brooks said. "They go 11-5, and they win the division."

Brooks said this season, the third with quarterback Jameis Winston, makes him think of the Bucs' big push under Dungy. Oh, 1997 was the third NFL season of Brooks and Sapp.

"This third year is reminds me when we took that big leap in 1997," Brooks said. "They remind me of that. They've got enough to win the division.

"They've got a core group of guys who've played a lot of football together. Played some big games together. It's time. They earned the right the last two seasons to be talked about in December. The first year, 6-10, it was shocking. What is this? Last year, it was expected (9-7 record), but they didn't know how to handle it."

Brooks said the roots of 1997 were laid deep.

"In '95, we finished strong. We knocked off a couple of playoff teams under Sam (Wyche) down the stretch. In '96, we won five of our last seven under Tony Dungy; '97 was our year. This team, I see them progressing in that same manner."

Those 1996 Bucs took their share of hard knocks.

The 2017 Bucs starred on Hard Knocks.

"I told them, 'Guys, think of Hard Knocks this way. Get all the attention now, so when you've earned the right to have that attention in December, you'll have already been through it.' It's going to prepare them for what they're going to go through down the line."

Brooks talked about Winston's big push, too.

"Limit turnovers and he's got to manage his risks. Don't take hits when you don't have to."

As for the defense …

"Continue the momentum of third downs. Limit big plays. That's what happened when they go on their roll last year under (coordinator) Mike Smith. I thought Coach Smith was going to be a head coach this year, to be honest with you. A key acquisition was him coming back. He gets to coach 85 percent of the same players again. That's huge. There wasn't a lot of turnover. That's what I see between this team and the '97 team. The majority of the core is there."

But those Bucs had one big advantage over these Bucs.

"We didn't have to compete with a lot of history in our days," Brooks said. "This team, they have to compete against the history we made. But the thing about us is, we want it to happen, just like the guys before us wanted it for us, because they wanted to be proud. We want to be proud, too."

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