Ronde Barber and Matt Bryant rivaled each other with their history-making performances on Sunday
They were, in essence, co-MVPs of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' ineffable victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday afternoon. To say that either had the game's most critical performance was to undervalue the other's historic achievement.
Without Matt Bryant's 62-yard game-winning field goal, Ronde Barber's two interception-return touchdowns would have become footnotes to a disappointing loss.
Without Barber's two touchdowns, Bryant never would have been in position to make history.
Not surprisingly, the postgame fan poll on this site was split exactly evenly on the issue of which one of those two was the game's MVP. Fortunately, the National Football League has an award for both of them.
On Wednesday, in one of the least surprising announcements in recent memory, Barber was named the NFC's Defensive Player of the Week and Bryant was named the NFC's Special Teams Player of the Week for their performances against the Eagles. Not only did both men make the key plays in the weekend's most exciting victory, each of them did it in near record-breaking fashion.
Bryant's 62-yard field goal was the third longest in the NFL's 87-year history, trailing only 63-yarders by Tom Dempsey in 1970 and Jason Elam in 1998. It was the second-longest game winner after Dempsey's memorable blast for the Saints. Lining up on Philadelphia's side of the midfield stripe for his last-gasp attempt, Bryant seemed to have little chance; instead, he made it with several yards to spare.
Barber tied the NFL record by returning two Donovan McNabb interceptions for touchdowns, becoming the first player to pull off that double-dip in four years. The last was Houston's Aaron Glenn against Pittsburgh in 2002. One of the most consistent big-play makers in the NFL, Barber officially put his name on the list of 23 players who have accomplished that feat, in the process scoring the ninth and 10th touchdowns of his career (counting the postseason).
The honor is nothing new for Barber, who has now been named NFC Defensive Player of the Week six times, including once in the playoffs. He first won the award in Week Two of the 2000 season, then took it twice more in 2001 (Weeks 9 and 15). After his first touchdown off McNabb, the unforgettable 92-yard game-clincher in the 2002 NFC Championship Game, Barber won it again. Last season, Barber was chosen for the award in Week 14 after he had a sack and a critical interception in a win at Carolina, in the process becoming the first cornerback in league history to reach 20 career sacks and 20 career interceptions.
Oh, Barber also won the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week award in Week 13 of the 1998 season after he returned a deflected punt for a touchdown at Chicago. Barber's seven weekly awards overall are the most of any player in team history.
Bryant's award is his first as a Buccaneer but the third one he has received overall. He was twice selected the NFC Special Teams Player of the Week in 2003 while kicking for the New York Giants. The first came after he was true on all three of his field goal attempts in a 9-6 win over Seattle, the second after he made four three-pointers in a 19-17 victory over Washington.
These are the first two Player of the Week awards won by Buccaneers this season. Last year, Tampa Bay players took home defensive honors three times and special teams honors three times. Bryant is the first Buccaneer placekicker to be so honored since Martin Gramatica nailed five field goals in a 15-0 win at Chicago in the 2002 season finale.
It's not terribly unusual for two players from the same team to win Player of the Week awards simultaneously. It's the first such occurrence for the Buccaneers since 2003, however, when quarterback Brad Johnson and defensive end Simeon Rice took offensive and defensive honors, respectively, after a Week Six win at Washington. The last time two Bucs pulled off a defensive-special teams pair was Week 16 of 2001, when linebacker Derrick Brooks and Todd Yoder took those honors after a win over Baltimore.