Not a productive day at quarterback
Josh Freeman threw for fewer than 150 yards for only the fifth time among his 42 starts:
Dec. 17, 2011Cowboys14817271031-15 L
Nov. 21, 201049ers13613202021-0 W
Dec. 13, 2009Jets9314330326-3 L
Nov. 22, 2009Saints12617331338-7 L
TAMPA — It took the oldest player on the field at Raymond James Stadium to usher the Bucs into a brand new era.
Making his 200th consecutive start, 37-year-old safety Ronde Barber filled up a stat sheet in Sunday's 16-10 victory over prodigious quarterback Cam Newton and the Panthers before an announced 51,533.
Barber recorded five tackles — two for a loss — two passes defensed, a sack, an interception and stopped Newton for no gain on third and goal from the 3 late in the fourth quarter.
In between came congratulatory testimonials to Barber's bicentennial start — the most of any active player in the league — on the Jumbotron from former teammates such as Derrick Brooks and Mike Alstott and former coach Tony Dungy.
Barber wasn't the only one making history. Coach Greg Schiano won in his first game and, in doing so, unleashed a defense that tied a club record with 10 rushing yards allowed.
It was enough to make Barber, the 16-year veteran, feel a little nostalgic.
"It felt like old times," he said. "When we were a great defense back in the day, guys played so fast. You turn the film on, and people would be saying, 'This can't possibly be this defense. This film is sped up. It can't possibly be this fast.' That's what it felt like out there.
"They have some very talented players. We swarmed on them all day long. We kept Cam in check. Obviously, they had some breakout passes there at the end. But when you can limit this team that completely dominated us on the ground last year to 10 yards, you can say we did something right."
A year ago, when the Bucs owned the worst defense in the league and yielded a franchise-worst 494 points, Newton did his best to push Barber toward retirement, throwing for four touchdowns and rushing for four in lopsided wins en route to being named offensive rookie of the year.
Newton passed for 303 yards and a touchdown Sunday. But he was pressured all day, sacked three times, intercepted twice and bottled up in the pocket to gain only 4 yards on five carries.
Defensive tackle Gerald McCoy was disruptive the entire game, recording a sack, two tackles for losses and forcing a desperate pass that resulted in a 6-yard loss.
"That's why I said (last) week he's an escape artist," McCoy said of Newton. "Not to mention, he's 7-6, 350. He's a great athlete, and he played well. Our plan was to keep him in the pocket."
The Bucs got help from the offense containing Newton (actually 6-5, 245 pounds). Tampa Bay built a 13-0 halftime lead by scoring on its first two possessions. Josh Freeman completed his first seven passes and drove the Bucs 80 yards in 13 plays, capped by a 6-yard touchdown pass to Mike Williams. Rookie Doug Martin, who rushed for 95 yards and had four catches for 23 yards, helped the Bucs hold the ball for 37:27.
"The best way to defend (Newton) is to not have to defend him," Schiano said.
The lead almost didn't hold up. Newton connected with Brandon LaFell on a 22-yard touchdown midway through the third quarter, and the Bucs offense sputtered.
But clinging to a six-point lead, the Bucs produced interceptions by Barber and safety Ahmad Black, and a blocked punt by cornerback Aqib Talib.
Barber's stop of Newton forced the Panthers to settle for a field goal with 2:50 left and three timeouts. But the Bucs ran out the clock with help from Freeman's 4-yard pass to Vincent Jackson on third and 2.
"I put all my 180 (pounds) into however much he weighs, and we got off the field," Barber said.
"I don't think anybody really knew what we were going to get. We had one really good showing in the preseason, against New England. I don't think I even knew how it would translate into Sundays."
Schiano started Barber at cornerback before he moved to his new position at safety. Barber had a hint it would be a special night before racking up his 28th sack and 44th interception. He planned to host a team party after the game.
"None of you are invited," Barber said to reporters.
Too late, Ronde. Everyone just enjoyed the celebration.
Rick Stroud can be reached at email@example.com and can be heard from 6 to 9 a.m. weekdays on WDAE-620.