Bucs' Brooks voted NFL's top defender

Thursday, January 9, 2003

Tampa Bay linebacker Derrick Brooks is the crown jewel of the NFL's best defense and easily topped Miami end Jason Taylor for The Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year award Wednesday.

The Buccaneers' star has been one of pro football's best linebackers almost since he broke into the league in 1995. But teammates Warren Sapp and John Lynch often drew more attention, and Sapp won the award in 1999.

There was no ignoring Brooks this year. He led his team in tackles (170) for the fifth consecutive year and led the NFL with three interception returns for TDs. His four TDs on turnovers tied for second most in a single season in league history.

Brooks also had career highs in interceptions (five) and passes defensed (15).

So was the award overdue?

"You can say that, but I'm going to be positive and say it's the right time for me to win it," Brooks said Wednesday. "Hopefully this can be done in a championship year. I just feel kind of funny. It's really, in my opinion, a team award."

Brooks' team allowed 196 points, 45 fewer than any other team, in winning the NFC South with a 12-4 record. It ranked first in overall defense and against the pass and had 31 interceptions, six better than any other team.

And nobody played a bigger role than Brooks, an eight-year veteran who received 36 votes from a nationwide panel of sports writers and broadcasters who cover the NFL.

That easily outdistanced Taylor, who led the league with 18 1/2 sacks. Taylor got 11 votes, while Philadelphia safety Brian Dawkins earned the only other vote. Last year's winner was Giants end Michael Strahan.

Brooks has "been more than deserving for years. He's always been the heart and soul of our team," said Sapp, who also had a strong year. "It always takes us a while to find the great ones. They're kind of hidden, especially when he has a mouth like me beside him all that time. ... He's just an unassuming, businesslike professional who goes to work every day."

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