There was no shortage of throat lumps for the Buccaneers on Sunday. Wet eyes and hearts heavy as anvils were in abundant supply. ¶ So with sentiments stirring after kicker Matt Bryant returned to work one day after burying his 3-month-old son, a team tends to rely on its emotional leader. ¶ Derrick Brooks did not disappoint. ¶ At 35 and still hobbled by a hamstring strain, the Bucs linebacker took over the game and steadied the season. ¶ Brooks had one of three interceptions of the Packers' Aaron Rodgers and forced a fumble that Jermaine Phillips returned 38 yards for a touchdown. The result was a 30-21 victory that saw Bryant kick three field goals, including a 24-yarder that put the Bucs ahead with 2:26 remaining in the game.
"I know it's still in me," Brooks said. "I've still got a lot of football left in me contrary to what some believe. I just put it on tape. I don't discuss it. I don't get into a debate. I put my evidence on tape, and again, (Sunday) was a time when I had an opportunity to put something on tape to change some critics' minds.
"And hopefully I did."
Rodgers, who also was sacked three times, completed 14 of 27 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns to Greg Jennings. But he injured his right (throwing) shoulder during a scramble in the fourth quarter and left the game for one series.
By the time he returned, Bryant had given the Bucs a 23-21 lead. Then Rodgers was hit by Greg White as he attempted a pass on second down, and Gaines Adams intercepted it, ending Green Bay's comeback hopes.
Even in his 14th season, Brooks proved he is capable of being the best player on the field when his team needs him most.
"There's a reason why he's going to Canton (and the Hall of Fame)," Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan said. "He played one of his better games. A forced fumble, a pick, he could've had two more picks. He was all over the place."
So was the whole Bucs defense, for that matter.
Tampa Bay shut down running back Ryan Grant, holding him to 20 yards on 15 carries. Then they got after Rodgers, disguising coverage and flushing him out of the pocket.
Prior to Sunday, Rodger was one of only three quarterbacks who had not thrown an interception this season. A streak of 157 attempts without one dating to 2005 ended on the first play of the second quarter. A pass intended for Brandon Jackson deflected off the running back's hands right to Brooks.
Six plays later, the Bucs tied the score at 7 on Brian Griese's 9-yard pass to Alex Smith.
"He's still a rookie," Hovan said of Rodgers. "Three years (as a backup) at Green Bay doesn't surmount to playing any football games. He's still a rookie. We knew we had to get to him."
Midway through the third quarter, Brooks put his helmet on the football, forcing Grant to fumble. Phillips scooped it up and scored the Bucs' third defensive touchdown in four games to build their lead to 20-7.
The Bucs took advantage of all four Packers turnovers, leading to 24 of their 30 points.
It's a good thing, too.
Griese nearly threw the game away, getting intercepted three times in the second half — including one that Charles Woodson returned 62 yards for a touchdown that gave the Packers a 21-20 lead 1:17 into the fourth quarter.
"At the end of the day, it's about winning," Brooks said. "We're not looking for style points when it comes to a W. We're looking for the W."
As his career winds down, Brooks has had to make some adjustments. He has been taken out of the game on some passing downs in favor of fellow linebacker Cato June. And the injuries seem to take longer to heal.
But the more emotional the game, the better Brooks seems to play.
"We had a long discussion this week with Derrick," coach Jon Gruden said. "We know he's been nursing and working through a tough injury. What he played like (Sunday) was the Derrick Brooks that everybody recognizes. He made plays sideline to sideline, caused a couple of turnovers.
"There's a lot of strength left in Derrick Brooks."
At times such as these, Brooks' shoulder pads seem to be big enough for a whole franchise to lean on. Emotion is what fueled the Bucs on Sunday — the love for a teammate and the profound sadness over the loss of Bryant's infant son, Tryson.
"I just think the handshakes and the hugs and the 'I love you,' is pretty much all we can do," Brooks said of Bryant. "It's a situation (where) you just lean on your faith in God and know God's perfect plan is always in place. And we just showed him the love as a team; to give him the space he needed. But also when he came around, we gave him the love he needs.
"Going out there and being perfect every time he hit the field is a real testament. The healing process is going to be long. And as a team, we just can be supportive of him."
Rick Stroud can be reached at stroud @sptimes.com.