Friday, April 20, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Scenes from a big Bucs victory: Ronde Barber adds to the record books, Chiefs' ground game gets stuffed, That's one weird punt

Gruber inducted into Ring

Paul Gruber did not receive much recognition during his 12-year career. But that changed in a big way Sunday. The former left tackle entered the Bucs' Ring of Honor, joining Hall of Fame DE Lee Roy Selmon, coach John McKay and TE Jimmie Giles.

Gruber, 47, the No. 4 overall pick in 1988, was an ironman (183 consecutive games and 4,850 consecutive snaps) known for toughness and being an outstanding player stuck on mediocre (or worse) teams.

"I don't even know if it's sunk in yet. It's humbling," said Gruber, a Buc from 1988-99. "Just the guys I'm up there with — Lee Roy and Coach McKay and Jimmie Giles — all guys I looked up to when I came into the league. It's a real honor."

During the halftime ceremony, Gruber, wearing his No. 74, was joined by his family as well as several members of the 1997 team that beat the Lions in a wild-card game, the franchise's first postseason game since 1982 and first postseason win since the 1979 division game over the Eagles.

"It's well deserved," said former FB Mike Alstott, Gruber's teammate for four seasons. "He … deserved everything; to be on that Super Bowl team (of 2002) because he was a guy that helped a lot of us young Bucs excel."

Barber adds to record books

Ronde Barber changed positions before this season. But Sunday, the results looked awfully familiar.

The cornerback-turned-free safety recorded the 14th regular-season touchdown of his career, plucking a tipped ball mere inches above the turf and racing 78 yards during the third quarter.

It was Barber's eighth interception return for a touchdown during the regular season, behind only the 11 of the Packers' Charles Woodson among active players and tied for seventh overall. His 12 defensive touchdowns, including four on fumbles, during the regular season match Woodson and Aeneas Williams and trail only the 13 of Darren Sharper and Rod Woodson.

"I was ball aware," said Barber, 37, who on Sunday matched Derrick Brooks' franchise record of 221 starts (including 204 in a row). "When you hustle to the ball and you have an inkling of where it's going to land, you can be in the right place at the right time. I've kind of made a career out of it."

His interception Sunday came after CB E.J. Biggers broke up a pass intended for Dexter McCluster. As the two crashed toward the turf, Biggers reached underneath to keep the ball in the air.

"It's something we do in practice," Biggers said. "We try to keep the ball in the air as long as we can to see if someone can get to it. You know (Barber) is around the ball all the time. So when you keep the ball in the air long enough, he's going to make a play."

From there, all Barber had to do was corral the ball and run — a long way.

"It probably wasn't as swift as it once was," Barber said, joking.

But he wasn't about to apologize.

"If you didn't watch the game and just saw the stat line," he said, "it's a 78-yard touchdown."

Taking it the other way

Ronde Barber's 78-yard interception return was the Bucs' 41st defensive touchdown since 2000, third most in the NFL during that span behind the Ravens (44) and Packers (42). Barber has returned nine interceptions for touchdowns (his eight in the regular season are tied for seventh in NFL history), four fumbles for touchdowns (tied for third in NFL history) and two deflected punts returned for touchdowns. A look at his 15 touchdowns:

Date Opp. Touchdown

Nov. 29, 1998 Bears 31 yards, punt

Sept. 10, 2000 Bears 24 yards, fumble

Sept. 24, 2000 Jets 37 yards, interception

Dec. 23, 2001 Saints 36 yards, interception

Jan. 19, 2003 Eagles 92 yards, interception *

Oct. 6, 2003 Colts 29 yards, interception

Sept. 12, 2004 Redskins 9 yards, fumble

Oct. 10, 2004 Saints 18 yards, fumble

Oct. 22, 2006 Eagles 66 yards, interception

Oct. 22, 2006 Eagles 37 yards, interception

Dec. 16, 2007 Falcons 29 yards, interception

Nov. 18, 2007 Falcons 41 yards, fumble

Nov. 23, 2008 Lions 65 yards, interception

Nov. 8, 2009 Packers 31 yards, punt

Sunday Chiefs 78 yards, interception

* NFC title game

Bucs stuff ground game

The Chiefs entered the game second in the league in rushing offense at 180.8 yards per game. They gashed the Saints for 273 (233 by Jamaal Charles) and the touted Ravens for 214 (140 by Charles).

On Sunday, Kansas City rushed for a season-low 80.

"That's our No. 1 goal every week, to stop the run," DT Roy Miller said. "And definitely against Jamaal, you definitely didn't want him to get those home runs. Everybody did their jobs. And at the end of the day, it all added up."

Coach Greg Schiano credited his defensive front: "They did an incredible job."

Charles, who entered as the league's leading rusher with 551 yards, was shaken up on the game's first play after catching a pass. But he returned to rush 12 times with almost no success.

He finished with 40 yards, ultimately becoming a nonfactor as Kansas City fell further behind.

"I don't know what happened," Charles said. "Something just didn't … I don't know."

No Buc knows Charles better than Miller, his roommate at the University of Texas. And Miller said he could tell the Bucs defense took its toll on Charles not only physically, but emotionally.

"When you go into the game getting as many yards as he does," Miller said, "you definitely get frustrated."

Koenen's mad scramble

Michael Koenen is strong on punts (43.6-yard average) and kickoffs (19-for-27 on touchbacks, including 7-for-7 Sunday). But Koenen won't get mistaken for a prolific passer.

Koenen admits he shouldn't have tried to throw the ball from near the Bucs goal line after his punt was blocked 45 seconds into the fourth quarter. The ball ended up in the hands of Kansas City DE Edgar Jones, who ran 11 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown to bring the Chiefs within 21-10.

"I was thinking two points (taking a safety) or get it out of there," Koenen said. "I should have just fallen on it."

On fourth and 6 from the Bucs 18, Shaun Draughn came in clean and blocked Koenen's punt into the end zone. Koenen raced back, beat Draughn to the ball, picked it up and started to run.

Koenen said he tried to throw the ball out of bounds, but Draughn hit him just as he passed the goal line. The ball went right to Jones. It was ruled a fumble recovery because players can't throw a pass after a blocked punt.

"I was surprised," Jones said. "Once I saw (Koenen) pick the ball up in the end zone, he looked as if he was running the ball. But he just kind of looked at me and threw it. So I'll take it."

Koenen has had seven punts blocked during his eight-year career but said this was the first time he tried a pass. Joked Bucs K Connor Barth: "I think his passer rating is probably negative-5."

Doink! Barth finally misses a field goal

Connor Barth said he felt great when he kicked a 55-yard field goal late in the first half. The kick had enough distance. But Barth said a gust of wind pushed the ball left, and it hit the upright. That ended a franchise-record streak (and the league's longest active streak) of made field goals at 25, dating to Oct. 16, 2011, a 55-yarder.

"I can't get any luck," Barth said, smiling. "Whenever I hit the post, it never kisses in."

Barth started a new streak with a 27-yard field goal in the fourth.

"I can see it in my head. Nine times out of 10, I put that thing in there," said Barth, who is 10-of-11 this season. "I thought it would sneak in. But the main thing is we won."

Bucs make right move at right guard … with a tackle

Looking to spark their offensive line, the Bucs used last week's bye to re-evaluate their personnel. They settled on Jamon Mere­dith, left, to start at right guard, benching Ted Larsen and bypassing Jeremy Trueblood. Meredith is normally a tackle and was inactive for two of the season's first four games. But the Bucs rushed for 145 yards, 54 more than their average coming in, and allowed only one sack. The 6-foot-5, 312-pounder used his size and agility to keep defenders at bay, even if it was an eye-opening experience for a player with almost no experience at the position. "I played guard in the fourth preseason game," said Meredith, a fourth-year player out of South Carolina whom the Packers drafted in the fifth round in 2009 and the Bucs signed in March. "Before that, I played a little bit in college." At tackle, Meredith often blocks a speedy edge rusher. He found himself face to face Sunday with DE Tyson Jackson (296 pounds) and NT Dontari Poe (346). The Bucs' play selection helped. They threw the ball 26 times versus 24 runs, and Meredith said he carried over his pass-blocking skills used at tackle. "I can hold my own in there," he said. "I just have to get used to those bull rushes. But I think I had something to build on."

Talib out, Biggers in

The Bucs played their first game of the season without suspended CB Aqib Talib. But when his four-game ban ends, he apparently will have a place on the roster.

Coach Greg Schiano was clear after the win against the Chiefs that the plan is to move forward with Talib.

"When Aqib's suspension is up, I really believe he'll work hard and be ready," he said. "And then we'll go from there."

Talib has had a series of off-field issues since being drafted 20th overall by the Bucs in 2008, including two arrests. He was suspended by the NFL on Saturday for violating its policy on performance-enhancing substances. In a statement, Talib said he took a nonprescribed Adderall pill.

Schiano had reason to be pleased with E.J. Biggers, a fourth-year player whom the Bucs drafted in the seventh round in 2009.

"I'm really, really proud of the way he stepped up," he said. "It's a trickle-down effect. Guys didn't miss a beat. They went out and played Buccaneer defense."

The Bucs limited the Chiefs to mostly a quick, short passing game. Backup QB Brady Quinn found it difficult to get the ball to his top target, Dwayne Bowe. The Pro Bowl receiver, at times, was lined up against Biggers, who helped limit his fellow Miami native to 21 yards on three catches.

"You're always one play away," said Biggers, who made the 13th start of his career. "When you think like that, you're always ready."

In the third quarter, Biggers set up FS Ronde Barber's interception return for a touchdown with a hit on WR Dexter McCluster.

"We'll miss (Talib)," Barber said. "But E.J.'s played a lot of games in this league. He's started enough that everybody feels comfortable with him being out there. If there's ever an opportunity, I think you have to jump on it. And he did."

Quick hits

• Mike Williams and Tiquan Underwood had 62-yard catches. It marked the first time two Bucs had catches longer than 60 in the same game since Dec. 7, 1998, against the Packers (Trent Dilfer to Jacquez Green for 64 and Bert Emanual for 62).

• Rookie S Mark Barron got his first interception during the first quarter.

• With 58 rushing yards, LeGarrette Blount has 1,890 for his career, 10th in team history.

• Tampa Bay's 463 yards were third most for a home game, 1 fewer than on Dec. 4, 1994, against Washington and 3 fewer than on Oct. 3, 2011, against Indianapolis.

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