Barber ended up on the ground with the ball twice during Sunday's game in Detroit thanks to a pair of diving interceptions
On Wednesday, Tampa Bay Buccaneers CB Ronde Barber was named NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week Nine, the first such award won by a Buc player this season. Barber has won a player of the week award three times (twice on defense, once on special teams), but this year's honor caps a standout first half of the season.
Barber learned of his award at the end of Monday's morning walk-through, right before the team's lunch. During the accompanying locker room media session, Barber and some of his teammates and coaches reacted to the prestigious award.
Barber earned the award on the strength of a two-interception day in Detroit on Sunday, raising his season total to five picks, already a career best. He came into the 2001 season specifically looking to improve in that category.
"I just wanted to get better in every aspect, and that's what I take into the offseason every year," said Barber. "The addition of Mike Tomlin as coach has helped me with some things that I hadn't really worked on as much in the past. I'm working on them a lot now, and it's translating onto the field.
"Whatever plays I can make - I try to do whatever I can. If it's getting interceptions, if it's getting sacks, those are plays that impact games. I've been lucky – with this defense I'm in position to make a lot of plays. If it shows up sometimes when I get a chance to make them, I get recognized for it."
Tomlin was added to the team's coaching staff last winter after former Defensive Backs Coach Herman Edwards left to become head coach of the New York Jets. Tomlin inherited two Pro Bowlers in safety John Lynch and cornerback Donnie Abraham but has gotten his most consistently outstanding play this season from Barber.
"A lot of his game is 'want-to,' said Tomlin. "He wills things to happen by his effort. It's nice to see that pay off for guys that play hard on top of that, like he is."
Safety Dexter Jackson, in his first year as a starter in that defensive backfield with Barber, sees that same attitude throughout the Bucs' defense, with Barber being the one to step up this past week.
"He played a great game," said Jackson. "Right now, in the secondary, we thrive on making plays this year. Our goal is to make plays. The first couple of games, we were on pace to break the record, and playing great is a habit. We've made a habit of making plays. Every week, somebody new is making plays."
Nobody more so than Barber, says teammate Derrick Brooks.
"Ronde had a heck of a week last week," added Brooks. "Him being Defensive Player of the Week is rightfully deserved. It's kind of funny – people have been on him about being a defensive back with more sacks than interceptions. I see he's doing something about that this year. He's got more picks than sacks. Ronde's hot right now. You get players that get into a zone and they play well. I'd say Ronde's been one of the good spots for us this year."
Head Coach Tony Dungy agreed that Barber has been a continuous source of game-turning plays this season.
"He had a lot of big plays in that game – two interceptions that stopped scoring drives – but he's been doing that all year for us," said Dungy. "Sunday was especially big in a lot of ways. Four passes defensed and two interceptions, that's a pretty good idea.
"I think he's playing as consistently as he has. Week in and week out, he's on top of his game. He makes very few mental mistakes. He's had some chances this year with balls in the air and he's taking advantage of them. Week in and week out, he's a pretty consistent player."
That description has fit Barber since he began playing regularly in 1998. After three strong years in the Bucs' well-respected defense, Barber could have left after the 2000 campaign as an unrestricted free agent. Instead, he and the team agreed on a contract to keep him in Tampa for the next six years. If possible, the fifth-year veteran stepped up his preparation even more after the deal was struck.
"He was here every day in the offseason," said Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffin. "He was a free agent and he wanted to be here in the worst way, and Rich got it done and it was the best thing we ever did. He's finally getting the credit he deserves, but he's stepped it up a notch, too. I think he feels, 'Hey, this is my spot. I'm a Buccaneer now and I'm going to finish my career as a Buccaneer.'"