Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber said he would have gone to Hawaii to watch his twin brother Tiki’s last football game regardless of whether or not he made the Pro Bowl himself, but being there in uniform will make for a proper going away party for the entire Barber family.
“It’s a pretty significant honor,” Ronde said. “This game will be the last of my season. But when Tiki goes, it will be the last game of his career. It’s good for our family, it’s good for him and I’m excited.”
The visit to Hawaii has become a trend for the brothers, who each make their third consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl.
Tiki, who announced plans to retire from the New York Giants at season’s end, earned his first Pro Bowl berth in 2004 and then repeated last season when he led the league in yards from scrimmage (2,390). His 1,357 rushing yards this year ranks fourth in the league.
As the Bucs’ lone Pro Bowler, Ronde’s selection represents a departure from the norm. For the first time since 1996, the team did not have multiple defenders named to the NFC roster.
This, Barber’s fourth trip to the Pro Bowl, is the most by any cornerback in team history and ties him with tight end Jimmie Giles (1980-82, 1985) for fifth on the Bucs’ all-time list of appearances.
Barber has been arguably the best player on a struggling defense this season. He ranks first on the team with three interceptions and 18 passes defended. You’d have to think his two interceptions for touchdowns against Philadelphia in Week 7, which tied an NFL record, made a significant contribution to his selection. In addition, he has 103 tackles and two forced fumbles.
While recognizing the honor, there was also a sense of discontent in the situation from which it came.
“When I look at this season, when it’s all done, it won’t be that I finished in Hawaii, it will be that we finished whatever we finish, no better than 5-11, and that’s just not an acceptable season for anybody in this organization, regardless of the accolades we get at the end of the year, so I’ll look to improve even on top of this,” Barber said.
SNUBBED? The news was somewhat bitter sweet for Barber in the sense that this will be the first time he makes the trip to the Pro Bowl without teammate Derrick Brooks.
While it clearly hasn’t been Brooks’ best season, there was an underlying feeling he could grab his 10th consecutive trip to the Pro Bowl based on his reputation and body of work. Chicago’s Lance Briggs, Seattle’s Julian Peterson and Dallas’ DeMarcus Ware are the three outside linebackers who were selected to represent the NFC. Coincidentally, all three play on teams with strong playoff possibilities.
Perhaps the Bucs’ 3-11 record hurt Brooks’ chances. He ranks in the top 10 in tackles among the NFC with 103. Only Briggs has more (116). Peterson and Ware have 79 and 5, respectively. Brooks’ two interceptions are one more than each of them, but where they outshine him is in quarterback sacks. Peterson has nine and Ware has 7.5.
"A part of me is disappointed because I felt like I played well enough, but I do my best not to question God's work," Brooks said. "It just wasn't part of his plan for me to make it. It's kind of funny because the year I didn't think I was going to make it when I was hurt, I did.”
Brooks was named a first alternate and said he would go if called upon out of his responsibility and his respect for the league, should one of the linebackers ahead of him not be able to make the trip.
He was disappointed and said he would take his own advice which, in the past, he has told to other players he felt should have got in; Keep your chin up and continue to work hard.
“I never want to slight anything from the guys who did make it,” Brooks said. “Julian, Lance and DeMarcus all had big impact years too, I never want to take anything away from them. At the same time, I do want to respect the things I did in spite of our struggles.”
Ronde Barber felt for his teammate.
“Yeah, in retrospect, Derrick had a pretty good year,” he said. “It wasn’t as special as some people are used to him having.
“You’ve got to give some of the guys voted ahead of him credit as well, but to go nine straight years and not be elected this year is somewhat disappointing for all of us.”
CADDY BANGED UP Bucs running back Cadillac Williams missed practice on Wednesday due to a foot injury he suffered on Sunday at Chicago.
He was listed as questionable on the team’s injury report and Bucs head coach Jon Gruden said he expected back up Michael Pittman and fullback Mike Alstott to get more carries this week.
Williams has started all 14 games this season, but has averaged just 33 yards a game over his last three outings.
SUDDEN IMPACT After spending his first 13 games in anonymity, Bucs rookie receiver Maurice Stovall found his groove against Chicago with three catches for 42 yards. That stat line might not be eye-popping, but the manner and timing of Stovall’s receptions were of more significance. Plus, he had just one reception all season heading into Sunday.
At the least, his performance should give Bucs head coach Jon Gruden and quarterback Tim Rattay more confidence to call his number at Cleveland on Sunday.
Better late than never, Stovall says.
“I’m looking forward to competing and helping us get a win,” he said. “I’m out there trying to make a difference and help the team finish the season strong.”
WANNA BE A BALLER Before the first ball of the 2006 season was kicked off, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers had playmakers on the offensive roster. Through a 0-4 start, playmakers were on the field. But it wasn’t until last week that it seemed they all showed up on the same day, or should we say the same half.
During the stretch of adversity the team went through this season, critics often argued Tampa Bay simply didn’t have the talent to compete. A change in quarterback now begs to argue if that’s true.
“Guys are making plays, and it’s starting with the offensive line giving me a lot of time,” Rattay said. “[Maurice] Stovall, Ike [Hilliard] and [Joey] Galloway, when they got opportunities, they made plays and that’s what sparked us.”
The weeks went by and Rattay sat quietly on the bench. He admitted at times it was hard to stay focused in that type of situation, but knew his job as a professional meant being prepared at any minute.
The scoop on the veteran quarterback was that maybe he didn’t possess the strongest arm or that he wasn’t physically gifted or aggressive enough. But for one half of one game, he proved he could get the job done, not by making plays himself, but rather getting the ball in the hands of the guys who can.
“Tim laid it in there nice, several times, under the gun,” Gruden said. “And I was really pleased with what he did. He made 10 or 12 big time throws in that game. It helped that our guys stepped up and made plays.
“Getting the ball to the right guy is a big part of wining football, that’s for sure.”
(TRUE)BLOOD TEMPERATURE RISING When you’re 6-foot-8, 320 pounds and extremely ticked off, people tend to give you space to cool down. And that’s what Bucs tackle Jeremy Trueblood got after he was flagged for a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct call in Chicago — plenty of space.
The rookie was guilty of a boneheaded move, taking his helmet off and throwing it to the ground after learning that the Bears had just recovered tight end Alex Smith’s fumble in overtime.
Chicago took over possession at the Bucs’ 37-yard line, but Trueblood’s penalty pushed it up to the 22 and for all intents and purposes, should have cost his team the game right there. Trueblood got off the hook somewhat when Pro Bowl kicker Robbie Gould missed what would have been a game winning 37-yard field goal, although he would later seal a win with a 25-yarder.
While actions like his are a coach’s nightmare, there was something about it that could be seen in a more positive light.
“Well, we don’t want to have penalties you know, and that was a costly, key penalty, but I like the fact that man is coming to life and I do like to have emotion in these guys,” Gruden said.”
With a 3-11 record, a lot of people accused the Bucs of packing it in a long time ago, but isn’t that emotion that the rookie tackle displayed exactly what this team may be in need of?
“I’ve always been a highly emotional guy, and at the time I wanted to win so bad and I felt like we were on a roll,” Trueblood said. “I thought our offense was moving and I guess I was mad because we got a first down and I was ready to pound it all the way down the field. I just overreacted.”
Trueblood says he may have been spared some of the wrath of the coaches, particularly Gruden, because the stadium announcer called out No. 95, defensive tackle Chris Hovan’s number, for the penalty.
He was so heated when he came off the field, most of his teammates just gave him space.
“You don’t want to be like ‘Oh well, we fumbled, we might lose the game’,” Trueblood said. “You know, I guess that’s how I play, with emotion.”
Coach Gruden was impressed with the strides Trueblood and guard Davin Joseph made in the game and said he sees them maturing each week.
There could be an emotional lift for Trueblood this week in Cleveland. His hometown in Indiana is about four hours from away and he is expecting some friends and family to make the trip.
WHERE HAVE YOU GONE, JOE? On any given Sunday, you’ll still see a handful of No. 83 jerseys around Raymond James Stadium. The remnants of one of the Bucs’ favorite sons, Joe Jurevicius.
Now a member of the Cleveland Browns, he left a part of his heart in Tampa and still has strong ties to his former teammates and the city.
“I’m adamant when I say that I loved being in Tampa,” Jurevicius said in Wednesday’s conference call with the media. “I had great friends there, great teammates, and I’m in touch with a lot of people in the state of Florida, more specifically in Tampa. That place holds a special place for me.”
In nine season, his career has taken him to almost every corner of the country, with his fourth stop currently in Cleveland. An important piece in Tampa Bay’s 2002 Super Bowl season, he says the Bucs organization is the place where he really became a fan of football.
He left the Bay Area following the 2004 season, signing with Seattle. After a one-year stay with the Seahawks last season, in which he had his most productive year in terms of touchdowns (10), the veteran moved on to the Browns where head coach Romeo Crennel says Jurevicius was something his team really needed in terms of demeanor, attitude and approach to the game.
Crennel called Jurevicius a “sure handed” receiver and said he has helped tremendously with the young players on the team.
A SORRY WOULD BE NICE On Monday, the NFL league office admitted to a malfunction in the pager system that alerts officials on the field that a replay is necessary.
Rashied Davis’ 28-yard catch in overtime was not reviewed and ultimately led to the Bears’ winning field goal.
Although the league office admitted the error, Coach Gruden wasn’t holding his breath for an apology.
“They don’t really apologize for anything and they don’t have to,” Gruden said of the league office. “It’s a league policy, I guess.
“Mistakes happen and unfortunately it was a big one.”
INJURY REPORT In addition to running back Cadillac Williams, four other Bucs made Wednesday’s injury report. CB Juran Bolden (quadriceps), CB Phillip Buchannon (groin), CB Torrie Cox (neck) and LB Jamie Winborn (knee) are all questionable.
Bolden, Williams and Winborn missed practice.
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