Ronde Deserves More Props For Doing What He Does
They talk about his lack of size. They give him smarts, but it seems to be code for a lack of supreme athletic skills, you know, like the top cornerbacks in football. People talk and talk about Ronde Barber, about what he isn't, then leave him out of Pro Bowls. Last year's omission was criminal. They are blind and foolish. They talk about how Barber's great in the Bucs' system. System?

It's time for Football America to talk about - and respect - the system inside Ronde Barber. A system that overflows with big plays. A system that plays hurt, plays smart, plays hard. A system that's as good as any in any defensive backfield. It's time to start realizing that the underrated Barber has become yet another well of heart and soul on this defense. There's Sapp, Brooks and Lynch. The Big Three. There's Simeon. But leave room for Ronde. Even if Ronde doesn't. ``I'll just do what I do,'' he said.

The Bucs needed a big game on Sunday. They needed a win against the Dallas Cowboys. They needed to turn the season back around. They needed people to step up. They needed leaders. Ronde Barber towered over them. He was the best player on the field. He just did what he does.

The defense made a statement Sunday, shutting out the Cowboys. It said that it is not dead, that this season is back on line. It said that injuries or not, the Bucs are ready for a challenge. People answered that challenge Sunday. The defensive front stopped the run and had four sacks. The linebackers plugged gaps. The secondary, manned by names like Ivy and Phillips and Wansley, not Kelly and Lynch, held firm. The Cowboys managed just 178 yards and nine first downs. The Cowboys managed not a point. Bucs big names made plays. Bucs no names made plays. But one name jumped out. Ronde Barber.

He was at his Ronde best on Sunday. He held the secondary together. Brian Kelly was gone. John Lynch was on the Bucs sideline with an injury. A leader missing. But there was Barber. Ronde the rock. His numbers Sunday don't tell the whole story, which is amazing, since he made eight tackles, intercepted a pass, forced two fumbles, defended a pass and generally toyed with Cowboys receivers. In a game the Bucs had to have, they had all of Ronde. ``It reminded me of Philadelphia,'' Bucs defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said. You know, the NFC title game, where Barber dominated bigger Eagles receivers the same week other Eagles doubted he could even start in Philly's Pro Bowl-heavy secondary. He capped it with the signature play in Bucs history, an interception for a touchdown in utter silence at Veterans Stadium. ``This was like that,'' Kiffin insisted.

In a way, it was. This was a smaller wall, but Bucs backs were still against it. From the opening kickoff, the defending Super Bowl champs set out to say that 3-3 was a lie, that San Francisco was an illusion. Barber led the way. There was that third-and-one deep in Bucs territory in the first quarter of a scoreless game. Dallas ran the ball. Barber stuffed the runner, along with Nate Webster, for a yard loss. A statement was made, then and there. ``We did say something,'' Barber said.

And there was that Dallas drive late in the game. Only the score remained in doubt, and Dallas seemed intent on making some points. They were at the Bucs' 27. Surely they'd save some face. Barber blitzed and smashed another Cowboys runner. The ball came loose. Shelton Quarles fell on it. The shutout stood. Ronde made it stand. The Bucs defense was back. ``I don't think we ever left,'' Barber said.

He was asked to pick the biggest play he made. ``One?'' Barber asked. ``Out of all those great plays?''

He laughed at his joke. He'll just do what he does. Never mind that. Leave room for Ronde.