Tampa Bay's 2007 season is officially over after a 24-14 loss to the New York Giants on Wild Card Weekend. Buccaneers weakside linebacker Derrick Brooks suggested Monday that it wasn't his last.
Brooks, who helped to turn one of the losingest franchises in sports history into a Super Bowl champion after being selected by Tampa Bay in the first round of the 1995 NFL Draft, has helped the Bucs win four of the franchise's six division titles.
The fact that he helped the Bucs rebound from a 4-12 season last year to a 9-7 regular season record in 2007 makes the team's 2007 NFC South division title one of Brooks' more prouder feats from his impressive 13-year career.
But Brooks was also part of a 2005 team that won a division title just to produce that 4-12 mark the following season. However, Brooks believes the players in this particular Bucs locker room will find a way to become the first team to ever win the NFC South division two straight years.
"It's going to be hard to see the silver lining in a very dark cloud today," said Brooks. "But as I told the guys earlier, we should be proud of where we came from. The guys that were here that went 4-12 should be very proud of what we accomplished this year. The guys that weren't here – get ready to build on this in 2008."
At 34, Brooks realizes he will not be playing professional football for much longer. He made 10 straight Pro Bowls until that streak was snapped this season. However, Brooks' first priority for next season isn't to make it to the Pro Bowl again. It's to lead the Bucs to another division championship and playoff run.
"There's probably more excitement now because of what they say is the window of opportunity," said Brooks. "That's something I've learned over the last four years of my career. It's not there every year. That's one of the things I'm constantly preaching. Win a division title. Now win another one because we're not going back to the cellar. That's what fuels my fire.
"I still see championship pedigree in this locker room. We just need to have enough guys believing on a daily basis to get better with the little things. We knew that when we were making our run. I keep telling these guys that it's the same thing that I saw when I was younger. I keep telling them to be a little more detailed oriented and examine their game a little more. ‘I'm not telling you to be like me, I'm telling you to be better than me. Spend that extra time in the film room and don't depend on your coaches to be your critic. Be your own critic because that's what makes good players great and bad players good.' I think these guys bought into that because we went from 4-12 to winning the division. Now we need to go from winning the division to winning a Super Bowl."
Brooks, who has played in 208 consecutive games with 192 straight starts, will turn 35 in April. He is under contract with Tampa Bay through the 2009 season and is scheduled to earn a base salary of $3.85 million in 2008.
Although he didn't make the Pro Bowl, Brooks finished the 2007 season ranked second on the team in tackles with 162 and forced three fumbles. Brooks also was part of a Tampa Bay defense that ranked No. 2 overall in the NFL.
Brooks made it clear Monday that he plans to play in 2008, but some wonder if he will be afforded that opportunity by the Buccaneers, who have $30 million in cap room, but have parted ways with popular players and fan favorites like defensive tackle Warren Sapp and safety John Lynch in the past.
Brooks believes he deserves the opportunity to finish his career in Tampa Bay and help the Buccaneers finish what they started in 2007.
"I expect to be here because I deserve to be here," said Brooks. "I take it no further than that. If the fire wasn't there anymore I'd be the first to tell you, but it's there now more than it even was last year because after 4-12 we didn't have a lot to hang our hats on and I was telling myself, ‘I hope I wasn't selling a dream. I was telling you guys what was in my heart and what was real.' I found myself repeating the same things this year, so I know it's real and I know it's from the heart. I expect to be here and I want to be here. Anything outside of myself I can't control. I look to lead these guys in 2008 more than any other year."
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