TAMPA — Ronde Barber's greatest play, a 92-yard interception return for a touchdown to clinch the 2002 NFC Championship Game in Philadelphia, came despite playing with the worst injury of his career. Five weeks earlier, Barber tore the posterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in a game at Detroit.
"I try not to care about injuries, to be honest with you," Barber said Thursday. "If I can go through it, I go through it. I had a few this year that I've played through and dealt with."
At 36, Barber is one of the NFL's iron men. On Saturday at Carolina, Barber will prove that again, playing in his 224th NFL game and tying retired LB Derrick Brooks for the most games in Bucs history. Barber could set the record by playing in the season finale on Jan. 1 at Atlanta.
The third-round pick out of Virginia in 1997 was unaware of the milestone until informed by a Bucs staff member.
"It's a reward for consistency, I guess," Barber said. "I do have a high pain threshold."
He said he missed a bowl game at Virginia when he stepped in a hole during practice in Shreveport, La., and broke his foot. He missed three games in high school in Roanoke, Va., with a broken collarbone. But he has never missed a game because of injury in nearly 15 pro seasons.
"Ronde, without a doubt, in Buccaneer history, is one of the greatest — and, arguably, in NFL history," coach Raheem Morris said. "He's an iron man, our Cal Ripken Jr., so to speak."
Barber contemplated retirement after last season but signed a one-year, $4 million deal. He and the Bucs will evaluate his future during the offseason.
"If Ronde wants to play, we're going to likely want to have him back," Morris said. "I put a lot of pressure on (GM) Mark (Dominik) when I say that, but good. It's not like he's slowed down. If he has the ability to play and we can work out a deal, I'm sure we'll do those things. He's just one of those type of guys.
"He told me I should be the first person to tell him he can't play. And when I tell him that, he said he'll walk away. I'm not prepared to tell him that yet because I'm actually finding more roles for him to do."
TAKING IT SLOW: DT Albert Haynesworth hasn't practiced much the past few weeks.
The team continues to try and reduce wear and tear on a bothersome knee that has affected him since he was with the Patriots earlier this season.
Haynesworth arrived with a reputation for not being a hard worker, and he rarely practiced in New England.
Morris said the Bucs' handling of Haynesworth has been prudent. The 10-year veteran hasn't missed any of the six games Tampa Bay has played since he joined the roster last month.
"Right now it's about maintenance and getting him to the game," Morris said. "For the younger players it's about the fundamental core beliefs and getting those guys better. But we're talking about an older player, a veteran type of guy and a guy who is 6-5 and 300-plus pounds who have to be able to deal with."
Said Haynesworth, 30: "I'm just old. They just want me to go run in the race (on game day). I've been in the game long enough to where I know how to do things. If I was a little younger, I'd definitely need more practice. But I've seen it, and I know how I play, so I'll be okay."
INJURY REPORT: In addition to Haynesworth, LB Adam Hayward (foot) missed practice Thursday. DT Brian Price (ankle) is improving, as are LB Geno Hayes (knee) and DE Michael Bennett (toe).