For the better part of 13 seasons, linebacker Derrick Brooks has been the face of the Bucs organization and the leader on defense. Brooks has been named to 10 consecutive Pro Bowls, won the AP Defensive Player of the Year award and helped lead the Bucs to their only Super Bowl championship in 2002. Brooks is the NFL leader among active players in tackles with 1,925.

However, there are growing thoughts and opinions around the NFL and among Bucs fans that Brooks, 34, has lost a step. Even though Brooks was second on the team with eight tackles in Sunday’s 20-6 loss, there were a couple of plays in the second half that has fueled the opinion that Brooks is not the same player.

Brooks was exploited in the fourth quarter against Seattle when he was caught in a mismatch guarding running back Maurice Morris. Morris beat Brooks down the field for a 34-yard touchdown reception that put the game out of reach. He also had a missed tackle against running back Shaun Alexander in the second half that Brooks probably would have made five years ago.

But is it fair to say that Brooks isn’t the same player he was five years ago? What veteran with 13 years of experience is?

The blown coverage against Seattle might have had more to do with the play-calling of Seahawks head coach Mike Holmgren than it did with Brooks getting burned downfield. Brooks still provides a run-stopping ability at the position and veteran leadership that is needed with the influx of young players that have been added this season.

“I can say for every bad thing someone says I can turn around and give them two or three good things that I did do,” Brooks said. “But that’s not going to get us anywhere or get us a win.”

Brooks still believes he has what it takes to help the Bucs defense return to its dominant form and feels his skills haven’t started to diminish just yet. He just keeps working hard at improving this year’s defense and respects everyone’s opinions, even if he disagrees with them.

“I don’t believe I have, but that’s my opinion,” Brooks said when asked about losing a step. “I respect everyone else’s opinion as a human being and to me it’s all subjective. That’s why I don’t get into the argument or buy into it with not just myself, but when they say someone else has lost a step. You don’t really buy into that, you just respect people’s opinion and you move on.”

With the New Orleans Saints coming to Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, there’s no better time than the present for Brooks to prove his critics wrong. The Bucs face a tough test in having to contain the dual running backs threat in Reggie Bush and Deuce McAllister along with the deep threat of quarterback Drew Brees.

Brooks is just concentrated on one thing and that’s winning football games.

“I just want a win for this football team more so than my personal success,” Brooks said. “At the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about, the team winning games. That’s always going to be Derrick Brooks’ goal whether it’s playing football or doing something else, it’s all about the team getting a win. That supersedes any personal success. Winning cures a lot and this team needs to get a win.”

Head coach Jon Gruden tries not to listen to people talk when it comes to the Bucs, but he’s frustrated when he hears talk about his star linebacker losing a step.

“It’s frustrating to hear a lot of people talk period if you want to be honest,” Gruden said. “You just try to work hard and let the people have their opinions. Derrick Brooks is a Hall of Famer and has given us everything he’s got and that’s pretty good.”

Brooks is good enough to be a starter on the Bucs defense this season and that’s all he or Gruden is worried about right now.

After opening the season with a 20-6 loss against the Seattle Seahawks, the Bucs can’t look any further than Sunday, which is when they'll face the New Orleans Saints. With a difficult five-game stretch to open the season, quarterback Jeff Garcia is concentrated on this week and getting a win.

Garcia isn’t ready to call this a must-win because he feels every game for the Bucs right now is a must-win situation.

“You can’t look at it as a 16-game season, you have to go week-to-week and give it your best every week,” Garcia said. “This is an important week for us; it’s not only a division game, but we don’t want to be a 0-2 team and still having to go and play some really tough games. It doesn’t matter record-wise in this league everybody has a chance to win on any given weekend. So it’s important that we really utilize this home field and the backing that we have from these fans, and go out there and play our hearts out and give everything that we have to find a way to win this football game.”

Garcia went 19-for-27 for 201 yards in the loss and failed to get the offense into the end zone on two crucial third downs in the first quarter. The Bucs offense struggled to move the ball in the second half and had their only successful drive was thwarted by a fumble from running back Earnest Graham. Garcia stresses the importance of sustaining success for four quarters and wants to get the offense moving in the right direction, which is into the end zone and capturing a victory against the Saints.

“It’s very important to find a way to get off to a fast start,” Garcia said. “We need to play better for 60 minutes. I thought we did some good things on Sunday against Seattle in a very tough environment, but that doesn’t ease the pain of losing. So we need to find a way to turn that around and find a way to be successful on offense. I felt our defense did a good job on Sunday. They gave us an opportunity to be in that football game and we just need to find way to get the ball in the end zone. It’s important that we get that going right now. There’s no time to waste and no time to find a sense of getting on the same page with everybody. Everybody has to be on the same page right now and we have to get it going this Sunday.”

The Bucs made a roster move on Wednesday that will help in the return game, but hurts the wide receiving corps. Wide receiver Mark Jones, who was with the team for the entire preseason, was re-signed after being one of the final cuts.

Jones’ signing means the end of wide receiver David Boston’s tenure with the Bucs as he was released. Boston, who is facing misdemeanor DUI charges, injured his foot during warm-ups before Sunday’s game against Seattle and the team reached an injury settlement with the journeyman receiver.

“I thought my preseason play spoke for itself, but they had other plans,” Jones said. “I respect that, but I’m glad they kept me in mind and wanted to me to be a part of the team. I’m going to continue to do what I’ve been doing in the preseason and carry that over into the regular season.”

In 23 games with the Bucs, Jones had returned 71 punts for 647 yards. Jones will likely take over the kickoff return and punt return duties, despite the success of rotating wide receivers Joey Galloway and Ike Hilliard with punt returns last week.

“From what I understand, I’m going to get the opportunity to go out and do that today,” Jones said. “If they like me, then I guess I’ll be up this week [on the active roster]. I’m going to keep my head focused on being the guy to do returns this week, and if I’m not, then I just have to deal with it.”

Gruden was disappointed about the Boston situation.

“I’m very disappointed not only for David Boston but for our fans,” Gruden said. “This is a guy that got hurt in the pre-game warm-up, turned his ankle or whatever it was and there are some pending things going on off the field that will be resolved by people of a high authority and more knowledge than me. But for two years it was a Cinderella story. We had hoped that he would be able to come back and rejuvenate his career and unfortunately it did not work out. But we gave it everything we had, I will say this, he certainly elevated the play of Ike Hilliard and Mike Clayton and all the receivers in training camp. It’s disappointing but at the same time we lost Paris Warren and it’s just a difficult situation that we will have to overcome.”

Defensive end Patrick Chukwurah is the only player that has been ruled out of Sunday’s game against New Orleans. Cornerback Brian Kelly, who left Sunday’s game against Seattle, did not practice as he is recovering from a groin injury. Running back Cadillac Williams and defensive tackle Chris Hovan were limited in practice with ribs and an ankle injury, respectively, and wide receiver Joey Galloway was limited in practice, which was a team decision.

Quarterback Jeff Garcia on his thoughts about the New Orleans Saints.

“Just a good football team; not indicative of what happened to them last week against Indianapolis. I think was have to look at as a playoff-caliber football team, a team that won the conference, won the division last year and they are going to be explosive and hungry to come back out and prove that they belong in the top echelon of teams. So we have to be ready for that. I think defensively, they have good players, good defensive line, smart active linebackers and some pretty good cover guys in the secondary. So it’s just a matter of us coming out and executing once again and trying to figure out a way to get the ball in the end zone.”

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