Barber helps trim Saints
Ronde Barber dropped a potential game-changing interception deep in Chicago territory in the first quarter of last week's game against the Bears. Tampa Bay went on to lose a close one, and Jon Gruden -- as he is wont to do -- made a point to remind his star defensive back about it. More than once, in fact. "Catch a ball for me this week, huh?" Gruden mumbled when passing Barber in hallways at team headquarters last week.

So when Barber intercepted Aaron Brooks in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the New Orleans Saints, the All-Pro cornerback made a beeline for his coach and had a little something to say. When Barber got his second interception in the second quarter, he was back in Gruden's mug for more. "And after the third one," Gruden said, "I ran for cover."

The Bucs, in turn, ran for the locker room, as Barber's third pick of the afternoon sealed a 10-3 victory over the Saints that ended a NFL afternoon virtually void of atmosphere for the crowd of 34,411 inside LSU's Tiger Stadium. "That was ugly out there, man," Tampa Bay offensive tackle Kenyatta Walker said. "But an ugly win is a lot better than an ugly loss."

Barber's three interceptions -- plus a fourth from free safety Dexter Jackson -- made for a particularly homely afternoon for Brooks but a satisfying outcome for the Bucs (8-4), who took sole possession of second place in the NFC South Division heading into next Sunday's trip to face front-running Carolina (9-3). "You have to be able to make plays in December," Barber said. "We made a bunch of them today."

His were the flashy ones. The rest were workmanlike plays that a team needs to grind out a road win the NFL. Joey Galloway remained on his 2005 tear, catching a 30-yard touchdown pass from Chris Simms to give the Bucs a 7-0 lead in the second period. The Bucs never trailed, despite their defense yielding seven third-down conversions on the first 11 attempts, as New Orleans managed just a 26-yard field goal by John Carney along the way.

When Tampa Bay needed a stop, Barber and friends were usually there. "I thought we played well enough to win," Saints Coach Jim Haslett said after falling to 3-8. "But that's a good team over there."

It was a virtually error-free team, too. The Bucs played their first road game without a turnover this season and got enough production from their rushing attack -- 133 yards, including 96 on 22 carries from rookie tailback Carnell Williams -- to keep a rhythm and nearly match the Saints in time of possession. The turnovers were the difference. "It goes back to what we've been saying the last three or four weeks now," said Simms, who went 12-of-21 for 123 yards, one touchdown, no interceptions and was sacked just once. "It hasn't been pretty, but we've made plays when we had to."

The last came with 1:20 to go, after the Saints had driven from their 20 to the Bucs' 25 and threatened to tie the game late. That was until Brooks tried to jam yet another throw through Barber, who was blanketed all over wideout Joe Horn down the seam of Tampa Bay's cover-two defense. Barber turned just in time to see the ball, catch it at the goal line and return it 26 yards, so the Bucs could run out the clock. Then, it was off to see his coach again. "Jon has a high expectation level for his teams," Barber said. "He expects a lot of everybody, especially his big players. And I think he thinks I'm one of those guys."

He's not the only one.

Chris Harry , The Orlando Sentinel 5 December 2005