Barber Looks Good In Wrecking Eagles
The Tampa Tribune, published 20 January 2003

Everybody was talking all week about the Philadelphia secondary, with it's three Pro Bowlers. There was some talk about the Bucs secondary, specifically cornerback Ronde Barber. In a national radio interview, a local Philadelphia reporter said Barber would probably only be the nickel back in the Eagles secondary. Ouch.

That ``nickel back'' not only outplayed his Philadelphia counterparts Sunday, he proved to be a one-man wrecking crew. He had a sack. He forced a fumble. He broke up four passes. And he returned an interception for a touchdown. ``Ronde Barber was all over the place,'' Kiffin said. ``I don't think I've seen a DB makes as many plays in one game as he did.''

Jon Gruden took the flattery a step further. ``He's a clutch playmaker and one of the 50 best looking guys next to me,'' Gruden said.

Barber helped keep Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb off-balance and the Eagles offense out of sync. Other than running back Duce Staley's 20-yard touchdown run on Philadelphia's opening drive, the Bucs defense didn't give up the big plays. ``That was somebody slipping in a run gap on that touchdown. That's all it is,'' Barber said. ``We deal with it on the sideline and get rid of it. We have 70 more plays to go. We knew that was not going to be a deciding factor, and as you can see, we went out and dominated the rest of the game.

Dexter Jackson felt it in the third quarter, the feeling the Eagles had succumbed to their dominance. ``When they were down by 10, they were dumping here and dumping there,'' Jackson said. ``Anytime you get a team to do that, you know you've got them.''

The Bucs got the better part of most of their opponents this season by sticking to their successful formula. ``We play hard, we play fast and we play together,'' said Kiffin, the architect of the NFL's No. 1 ranked defense.

Sunday, it started with the pressure. The Bucs front four, as well as some blitzing, prevented McNabb from getting into a rhythm and gave him little time to throw the ball. Only McNabb's scrambling ability kept his sacks numbers low (two). ``We should have had four or five sacks,'' Kiffin said. ``But [McNabb's] strong. We couldn't get him down.''

Maybe not down, but definitely out. The Bucs forced two fumbles when the Eagles were threatening to score. Philadelphia was threatening in the end when they moved the ball to the Bucs 10-yard line. Down by just 10, McNabb threw a pass intended for wide receiver Antonio Freeman. Instead, Barber stepped in front for the interception and returned it 92 yards for a touchdown. The Bucs were playing Cover 2 at the time, the defense they've patented. But ironically, they only played that scheme during the Eagles last couple of drives. ``[McNabb] through it right to the teeth of the defense,'' Barber said. ``It was a play that I have to make. I'm kicking myself for the next five weeks if I don't make that interception. The touchdown was a bonus for it.''