Brooks, Buccaneers hungry for more success

Updated: October 6, 2003, 5:02 PM ET

TAMPA, Fla. -- Derrick Brooks laughs at the suggestion that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are anything but the best team in the NFL.

The league's reigning defensive player of the year insists complacency will not undermine the Bucs' chances of repeating as Super Bowl champions, regardless of the loss three weeks ago to the Carolina Panthers.

"I don't think you can say we're not hungry. If anything we're more hungry because we still don't feel we're respected," the six-time Pro Bowl linebacker said.

"Think about all the things we heard after the Carolina game and even during our bye week. Hey man, we're still here. But we're not going to talk about it. I don't even want to talk about it. You'll see on Sundays."

Brooks has heard all the reasons why it's difficult to defend a Super Bowl title. Even so, he's confident Tampa Bay, which allowed only one touchdown -- on a 2-yard drive -- in their first three games, has what it takes.

He bases that on a comment from defensive line coach Rod Marinelli.

"He said you cut down a tree and pretty much pull up the roots, it's dead," Brooks said. "We're like grass. You cut us, you mow us, we're going to grow back. You don't even water us, we're going to grow back. We're just like weeds. It's hard to get rid of us.

The heart and soul of the NFL's stingiest defense is hungry for more success on a personal level, too.

Last year, he became the first NFL linebacker to score on three interception returns in the same season and ran back a fumble for a fourth touchdown. He added an interception return for a TD in the Super Bowl, capping the best year of his career.

His goal is to play even better.

"To me, the team goes ahead of all your individual awards. But for all that to happen in one year is truly remarkable," Brooks said.

The Bucs led the league in total defense a year ago and were No. 1 again this year, heading into Monday night's game against former Bucs coach Tony Dungy and Peyton Manning, who have the Indianapolis Colts off to their best start in seven years.

Brooks and All-Pro defensive tackle Warren Sapp still share a special relationship with their ex-coach, who customarily sends them letters during the offseason encouraging them to find ways to improve on their previous year's performance.

Sapp received his letter this summer, but Brooks didn't.

"I actually wrote to Warren. I didn't write to Derrick, and he got on me about that," Dungy said. "Derrick and I have talked on the phone a few times. ... They actually started camp a little before we did, and I didn't get Derrick's off, but Warren and I kept our tradition going."

Brooks said anyone who questions whether the Bucs are focused on remaining on top simply need to watch one of the team practices. He credits coach Jon Gruden for setting the tone and doing whatever is necessary to keep the attention of the players.

"I think that's been a strong point of coach Gruden since he's been here, talking to a veteran team. That, in my opinion, is one of those unwritten things that he does that makes us the team we are," Brooks said.

"I think that's what drives us. It's not the finish line. It's those steps to get to the finish line. I think that's what makes us unique."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index