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The ball struck Brooks's left wrist, Peterson's gut and the crook of Peterson's right arm all simultaneously. But because Peterson had to slow up ever so slightly for the pass and because Brooks's left hand got tied up with Peterson's left hand, their bodies got closer, and Brooks brought his right arm over the top, as if he were dunking a basketball. Brooks knocked the ball to the ground as running back and linebacker fell together at the Bucs' 27.
Ruud, who'd been beaten by Peterson, screamed, "Thank you! Thank you!" as he ran to congratulate Brooks.
Peterson yelled to the ref, "Flag! Flag! Pass interference!" and was joined in his chorus by the Minnesota bench.
No flag. How could Horton have seen it? He was screened. And it happened so fast; was it really interference, or did the ball and Brooks's hands arrive at the same time? Brooks remembered another old trick he'd learned early in his career. "If you think you might get called for something," he said, "don't look at the ref to see, because that tells him you're guilty. I never look."
"Credit Derrick," Peterson said. "Veteran move."
Minnesota, deflated, scored zero points and gained 33 yards over the last 20 minutes. Tampa Bay kicked two more field goals and won 19--13. As the teams left the field, Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams said to Brooks, "You got away with one."
Maybe he did; the slow-motion replays showed Brooks's left hand interfering. But winners rejoice. Losers lament.
THE GAME is never over on Sunday.
This game, for Brooks, ended on Monday in a defensive meeting room, when he, Ruud and June got their report cards from Bradley. Every Bucs linebacker is graded in four categories: Plus/Minus (carrying out the right assignment on each play), Effort (running to the ball, even on the other side of the field), Make Play (making plays when in position to make them) and Tackles (taking down a ballcarrier when favorably positioned). Generally, Brooks is happy if the team wins and he gets a grade above 90%.
So he should have been elated when Bradley handed out the graded play sheet. Brooks, who was in for 40 of the 52 defensive snaps against Minnesota, scanned his grades: