On the opening day of the Buccaneers’ 2012 season, Ronde Barber made a landmark 200th consecutive NFL start and celebrated it with style, collecting a sack, an interception, five tackles, two passes defensed and the NFC Defensive Player of the Week award against Carolina.
Against Kansas City in Week Six, Barber tied Derrick Brooks’ Buccaneers’ franchise record for total starts with his 221st and made it another occasion, returning an interception 78 yards for a touchdown for his 15th career score.
On the first snap of Sunday’s game against Atlanta, Barber made his 210th consecutive NFL start, tying Hall of Fame center Jim Otto for the seventh-longest streak in league history. Was there any doubt he would punctuate the event with something memorable? This time it was a sublime interception that completely switched the momentum of what would prove to be an incredibly tight showdown between the top two teams in the NFC South.
Barber’s 47th career interception was all experience. On the play, he started out near the line of scrimmage outside the right tackle. He was peering into the backfield like he might come crashing in, but not surprisingly at the snap he peeled off into coverage against TE Tony Gonzalez. Gonzalez started toward the right sideline and Barber followed, but at some point, probably as much a matter of instinct as fully-formed thought, the Buc safety realized that Falcons QB Matt Ryan was going to throw down the middle of the field to WR Roddy White.
Barber changed his course in time to cut underneath White and make a leaping interception with his hands stretched high over his head. He hit the ground on the run and ran down the opposite sideline for a 28 yards to the Atlanta 31. Five plays later, Connor Barth hit a 22-yard field goal tie the game at 10-10. Before the interception, there appeared to be a very real chance that the Falcons would push their lead to double digits, especially if that pass had found its way to a speeding White. Instead, the Bucs would be the next team with the lead, and although it would then change hands three more times and end up as an Atlanta one-point victory, that was definitely a turning point in the game.
Barber’s interception was his fourth of the season, giving him the team lead in that category in 2012 and keeping him among the top 10 in the NFC in that category. Barber has nearly 50 career interceptions in his Hall of Fame-worthy career, but only the last four have come from the safety position, where he moved this offseason after 15 years at cornerback. He has taken to the new role so well that, as of last reporting from the league, he was leading the conference in Pro Bowl voting at free safety in fan balloting on NFL.com.
Barber would have preferred to celebrate his latest milestone game with a victory, of course. He’ll have to wait until next time…and with Ronde Barber, there always seems to be a next time.