Ronde Barber just about covered everything at Ford Field on Sunday, didn't he? The Lions receivers, his 13-game drought without an interception — and perhaps any doubts about whether he can still take over a football game. Barber had two interceptions, including one he returned 65 yards for a touchdown, to help the Bucs dig out of a 17-0 hole and bury the winless Lions 38-20. "There comes a time in everybody's career when they can't do it anymore," Barber said. "That time is not right now for me." At 33, Barber was not having one of his best seasons. He cites being beaten for three long touchdown passes: by the Saints' Devery Henderson, Bears' Brandon Lloyd and Packers' Greg Jennings.
"I've struggled this year," Barber said. "I haven't had a lot of opportunities, and the few that I've had, I haven't made the play."
And the four-time Pro Bowl cornerback admitted he has been stung by some of the criticism.
"If you only knew. Let me just say that. If you only knew," Barber said. "Doubt creeps into everybody's mind. I don't pretend that it doesn't. But I'm a positive guy.
"(Interceptions have) been a part of my career. Unfortunately, it's to my benefit and probably to my detriment. It's what people expect out of me. So when it doesn't happen, anything else I'm doing gets magnified probably in a negative light. But such is the case. Nothing will ever affect the way I do my job, whether I'm successful or not successful."
Sunday, Barber was snakebit to start.
Calvin Johnson made a leaping catch of a 41-yard pass from Daunte Culpepper in the first quarter. Then three plays later, the 6-foot-5 Johnson skied over the 5-foot-10 Barber again for a 15-yard touchdown.
On both plays, Barber was supposed to get help from safety Sabby Piscitelli. But in each instance, Piscitelli whiffed on the ball and the receiver, hanging Barber out to dry.
"One thing that's really impressive is that he doesn't get down on himself," Bucs linebacker Barrett Ruud said of Barber. "Some guys go into a funk, and they don't talk to people or else they get real mad and start throwing stuff. It's literally the next snap, especially for a (defensive back), that's the mind-set that you have to have.
"My first three years here … he didn't give up any plays. He's given up a couple this year, and he just walks down and sits there and gets ready for the next play."
Barber's best trait as a cornerback might be his short memory. Unfortunately for him, fans have them, too.
So Barber reminded everyone of his greatness Sunday when he stepped in front of two passes intended for Shaun McDonald. The first set up a go-ahead touchdown from Jeff Garcia to Jerramy Stevens. On the second, Barber jumped a quick out and raced 65 yards for a touchdown, beating Culpepper on the way.
"I've still got a little Tiki Barber in me," Barber said, joking about his retired twin brother.
"The old cliche is that they come in bunches. You can't go out searching for those opportunities. They come to you. You just have to take advantage of them when they do. I took advantage of them (Sunday)."
It was Barber's 13th career touchdown, including the postseason. His 11 career regular-season touchdowns on fumble or interception returns are the most among active players and third in NFL history behind Rod Woodson and Aeneas Williams.
"I won't sit here and lie and tell you I don't pay attention to Aeneas' 12 and Rod's 13," Barber said. "I know it very well. I know (the Packers') Darren Sharper was tied with me until (Sunday). Greatness can be defined in a lot of different ways. For me, that's just one way."
Nobody was happier for Barber than teammate Derrick Brooks, 35, who has answered every criticism of his performance with game-changing plays such as last week's breakup of a fourth-and-1 pass to Minnesota running back Adrian Peterson.
"He's been faced with some criticisms, most of it unfair, this year," Brooks said. "And for him to step up and provide the spark plays for us on defense is an attribute to him. And I can't be any prouder of Ronde for standing up … and answering the critics."
Coach Jon Gruden also has been a big defender of Barber's and said Sunday's performance was nails.
"He is a great player and is a clutch performer," Gruden said. "I don't know where the whispers are coming from, but we have said all along that is a big reason we are here. He is a big reason we have a chance."
As Barber hung a scarf around his neck and donned a fedora, Ruud smiled and nodded in his direction.
"You could see it in his mood," Ruud said. "It's almost like he got a monkey off his back."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]