Fifteen seasons, 212 games, a Super Bowl title, five Pro Bowls, 41 interceptions, 26 sacks, more consecutive starts than any other cornerback in NFL history and a spot on the most recent NFL All-Decade Team…there isn't much new for Ronde Barber to accomplish in his professional career.
But even repeated honors can say a lot about a player's career, and the one Barber received on Wednesday says this: Even at the age of 36, relatively advanced in NFL circles, the Buccaneers' Hall of Fame-bound cornerback remains one of the most productive defenders in the league.
On Wednesday, the NFL named Barber the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week Three. It is the eighth time, including the postseason, that Barber has won the award, and the first since Week 12 of the 2008 season. Barber also own one NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award and has received more weekly awards from the league than any other player in franchise history.
Barber was honored for his stat page-filling performance in the Buccaneers' impressive 16-13 win over division-rival Atlanta on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium. It was a gratifying turn of events not only for the franchise icon but also for a coaching staff that had purposely placed a heavy burden on Barber's shoulders in order to execute a specific game plan.
Barber's contributions included four solo tackles, one tackle for loss, one fumble recovery, one interception and an incredible five passes defensed, just one short of his personal single-game high. That all-around work helped the Buccaneers hold Atlanta's high-powered offense to just one touchdown, and only three points heading into the fourth quarter.
Tampa Bay's defensive game plan heading into the key divisional showdown was to bring extra defenders into the box near the line of scrimmage and focus on the dual goal of stopping running back Michael Turner and pressuring quarterback Matt Ryan. Those objectives were accomplished to the tune of four sacks of Ryan and a total of 30 Falcon rushing yards, 20 for Turner. On the back end, that strategy forced Barber and fellow cornerbacks Aqib Talib and E.J. Biggers into frequent one-on-one coverage situations, and they made it work by denying Atlanta entry into the end zone for more than three quarters.
Barber was especially proficient with his five pass break-ups, and that included several occasions on which he was matched up with a veteran of equal stature and accomplishment, tight end Tony Gonzalez. The 6-5, 247-pound Gonzalez did score Atlanta's one touchdown on a 10-yard catch, but he recorded only one other reception for eight yards.
Barber's impact on the game was felt just one minute into the first quarter. LB Dekoda Watson sacked Ryan and forced a fumble on the third play from scrimmage and Barber, playing the slot in the nickel package and making a delayed invasion into the backfield, alertly jumped on the loose ball. At the other end of the half, with only 10 seconds left in the second period, Barber ended a scoring threat in Buccaneers territory by diving to intercept a pass tipped by Biggers.
Late in the game, with the Bucs clinging to a 16-10 lead and the Falcons closing in on their goal line, Barber foiled Ryan's attempt to get the ball to Gonzalez inside the 10-yard line with a critical pass break-up. As it turned out, defensive tackle Gerald McCoy would be called for roughing the passer on the play, giving the Falcons a first-and-goal at the five-yard line.
Things looked a bit grim for the Buccaneers at that moment, but 22-year-old defensive tackle immediately turned the tide with his burst through the line for a 10-yard sack. Two plays later, 22-year-old linebacker Mason Foster chased Ryan relentlessly in the backfield, forcing a third-down throwaway and a Falcon field goal that would ultimately prove insufficient. Shutting down the Falcons was undoubtedly a team effort, and several other Buccaneer defenders came up big for the Buccaneers on that particular afternoon, many of them in the first half of their 20s.
Still, no one was bigger than Ronde Barber, once again the top defensive player in the conference. Here's hoping he can find room on his mantle.