The Tampa Bay Buccaneers made a big deal of Ronde Barber's impending 200th consecutive start before Sunday's game against Carolina. Barber made the game itself into a signature event, turning in the type of dominant performance that has earned him five Pro Bowl trips. And now that the Buccaneers' 16-10 win and Barber's latest masterpiece are in the books, the National Football League has decided it was an effort worth further celebration.
On Wednesday, Barber was named the NFC Defensive Player of the Week for Week One. Incredibly, it marked the ninth time he has been bestowed with that honor (including the postseason); he also owns one NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award.
And thus the celebration of Barber's milestone on Sunday has stretched impressively into the following week. It might seem too good to be unscripted – winning POTW honors for the very game in which he became the first defensive back in NFL history to reach 200 consecutive starts –but this was no charity selection. Barber was simply a big-play machine against the Panthers, and his contributions were indispensible to the team's season-opening victory.
Playing in the 226th game of his NFL career and making his 217th start overall, Barber contributed five tackles, an interception, a sack, two tackles for loss and two passes defensed. Simply put, he was all over the field.
That was true in a literal sense. Barber started the game at cornerback in a nickel package, a decision made by Head Coach Greg Schiano to allow Barber to hit his 200th straight start at the same position. In that regard, Barber merely extended the NFL record for cornerbacks he has held for nearly two years since breaking the previous mark of 171 set by Dick LeBeau. For much of the game, Barber manned his new position of free safety, though he spent additional time in the slot when the defense called for it. Barber was obviously in the backfield when he recorded his 28th career sack, and one of his two passes defensed occurred on a leaping play at the line of scrimmage when he was blitzing the quarterback.
That pass deflection came on third down in the first quarter and killed Carolina's second drive of the game. In the second quarter, Barber's alert recognition of a trick-play screen pass to running back Mike Tolbert resulted in a six-yard loss and another failed Panthers drive. Shortly before halftime, Barber chased Cam Newton out of bounds for a two-yard sack on a drive that had reached well into Tampa Bay territory. That possession stalled, too, and the Buccaneers led 13-0 at halftime.
Barber's interception, the 44th of his career, was particularly well-timed, as the Panthers had trimmed Tampa Bay's lead to 13-7 in the third quarter and had seemingly gained the momentum before the game's first turnover. Barber hauled in a pass deflected by Aqib Talib and returned it 24 yards to the midfield stripe.
Surprisingly, this marked just the second time in Barber's career that he has recorded a sack and an interception in the same game. He remains the only player in NFL history to have racked up at least 25 sacks and at least 40 interceptions.
Barber won his first Player of the Week award in 1998 for his efforts on special teams against the Chicago Bears in Week 13. His first defensive honors came during the 2000 season, and he has now won at least one NFC Defensive Player of the Week award in eight of the last 13 years. Barber has won more Player of the Week honors than any other player in franchise history.