Alan Dell

Tampa Bay Bucs' Ronde Barber marks 200th straight start with interception, sack


They call him the old man.

But if everyone looked as good as Ronde Barber, nursing homes would go out of business and football careers would last forever.

OK, maybe that's a stretch. But not any bigger than if someone told you the Tampa Bay Buccaneers were going to end their 10-game losing streak Sunday against Cam Newton and hold the Carolina Panthers to 10 yards rushing in a 16-10 victory.

The reigning NFL Rookie of the Year broke the Bucs into little pieces, accounting for eight TDs in two lopsided wins last year.

Tampa had the worst-run defense in the NFL last year and gave up the most points. It's a reason Barber considered going into retirement.

But those Bucs might be gone forever, and he is still here. That's what they call progress around One Buc Place under new head coach Greg Schiano.

It looks as if 2012 is going to be different, and you can thank the senior citizen, aka Ronde Barber.

He is 37 years old with 15 seasons under his belt, which in NFL years makes him about 65 with an AARP card and eligibility for Medicare.

Did we mention he celebrated his 200th consecutive NFL start on Sunday and played like an under-age driver. Barber had the Bucs' only sack in the first half. He tied for team for the team lead in tackles and had a tackle for a loss.

When the Bucs had completed their victory over Carolina before a rain-drenched crowd at Raymond James Stadium, Barber had five tackles, an interception, two pass deflections and two tackles for a loss.

He played safety for the first time in his career and excelled -- all 185 pounds of him. He used that body to make a key stop on Newton inside the 5-yard line when the 6-foot-5, 250-pound quarterback looked as if he were going to score a touchdown with 3:28 left in the game and the Bucs holding onto a 16-7 lead.

It was more impressive than David stopping Goliath.

In typical Barber fashion, he didn't want to take credit, instead giving it to his younger teammates, many of whom were playing in their first game.

"Today was like old times when we were a great defense. In those days, the guys played so fast you would look and say it was the film," Barber said. "People said we couldn't possibly be that fast, but we were, and that's the way it felt out there today. They swarmed on the ball all game and kept Cam in check. This team dominated us on the ground last year, and today we did something right."

If Barber went home and told someone who had not seen the game what the Bucs did on defense they would likely figure his age and too many hits affected his thinking.

Barber played mostly safety, where contact is more frequent and the hitting is tougher. He was prepared because during all his time as a cornerback he never really played like a cornerback.

"It's unreal that this was his 200th game the way the guy plays with all those sacks and tackles for losses. He is a guy who is always putting his face in on every play. It's truly remarkable," Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman said.

Barber doesn't think he is remarkable. He believes he is fortunate that Schiano would give him a chance to play as if the Bucs' new coach had a better option.

"After coach Schiano got done telling the players how to dress for a game one day, he came up to me and apologized. He said he didn't feel right telling a 37-year-old how to dress and couldn't look at me when he did it," Barber said. "But you know, I am just a football player. I never really thought of myself as just a cornerback, and this is just another opportunity for me to do my job and challenge myself."

Barber was the perfect antidote for Newton, who is one of the NFL's most athletic players has hall of fame written all over him. But he is inexperienced in only his second year, and the old warhorse cornerback/safety pulled out a few tricks to fool him.

"The sack I got on him was just a hustle play. I have to give Aqib Talib the credit for the interception because he tipped the ball," Barber said. "The ball was in the air, and one of things we have practiced so much was getting those tipped balls. On that run I stopped him in, I just fit in there and managed to get all of my 185 pounds on him."

One of the happiest players in the Bucs' locker room was Talib because he tipped the ball that Barber picked up. "That was my gift to him for his 200th straight (Buccaneers) game and he gave me credit for making it happen, that's Ronde," Talib said.

Barber has now played in 255 straight NFL games and has played in 226 games for Tampa Bay, which is the most in team history. He has the most career sacks among active players with 28 and is the Bucs' all-time interceptions leader with 44.

Alan Dell, Herald columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7080, ext. 2112.