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Barber questionable with broken thumb

Memo to quarterbacks who have been reluctant to challenge Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, who led the NFL with 10 interceptions a year ago.

For the next few weeks, he promises to try to make those catches one-handed.

Barber fractured his left thumb in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 23-10 win against Carolina.

Dr. Brian Schoefield performed surgery on the thumb Monday in Sarasota, and Barber will be listed as questionable for Sunday's game against Green Bay.

But with the Packers and quarterback Brett Favre headed to Raymond James Stadium, no one is betting against the Pro Bowl cornerback being in the lineup.

"If you ask me right now, I'd say, yeah, I'm going to play," Barber said. "Of course. You'd have to cut my leg off for me not to try to play at least. We're going to take it day to day. But to hit the nail on the head, it's not the time of the year to let something as simple as a thumb break keep me out of ballgames, especially against these guys."

If Barber is able to play, he will wear a protective cast on his left hand that could inhibit his ability to catch or tackle.

"Surgery went well," he said. "They put a couple of screws in it, which is good. The guy put a plate on it to stabilize it so it's healing. It's not going to go anywhere."

Barber's injury means the Bucs (8-2) could be without two defensive starters in a game involving the teams with the NFL's best records. Nose tackle Anthony McFarland is out with a broken right forearm but could return to the lineup sooner than expected.

"Obviously, we're very concerned about (Barber)," coach Jon Gruden said. "He is a great football player at this time.

"But we're going to remain optimistic. We realize that Ronde won't be playing the piano any time soon. But we think if there's any guy alive that can find a way to play, Barber is that guy. And we're going to remain optimistic before we speculate any further."

If Barber is unable to play, the Bucs will start second-year pro Dwight Smith, who had one of the team's three interceptions Sunday. Cornerback Corey Ivy would play Barber's spot in the slot in nickel coverage.

"Obviously, we'd lean on Dwight Smith, who is a very good football player," Gruden said. "We'd have to knock on (rookie) Tim Wansley's door. He and Corey Ivy will have to step up for us on nickel and dime defenses.

"When we lose Ronde Barber, it's a concern. When we lose Anthony McFarland, it's a concern. But we have Dwight Smith. We have guys that can play. Ronde Barber is playing as good as any corner in football. This guy's playing lights-out football. We need this guy."

Although Gruden was uncertain of the play when Barber was injured, it occurred sometime during the Panthers' final drive, which ended on a fourth-down sack of Rodney Peete by Ellis Wyms.

"He played until late in the football game," Gruden said. "There was just a collision at some point, he came out and there was some swelling there."

Smith, a second-year pro from Akron, started the opener against New Orleans, which began the game with three receivers. But he never has been called on to start at cornerback.

"I wish Ronde the best and I hope he gets healthy, but if I have to step in, I'm ready," he said. "I practice as if I'm going to start every week. This is how careers are made: You're thrust into a role and a lot is needed for your team. If you make big plays against Brett Favre and the offense Green Bay has, those are the things that get you money.

"Being a corner, every play is a big play because every time you make a mistake, it can register on the scoreboard. So it's really no difference between playing the nickel or starting. I have to defend my man every time, regardless."

The good news is Tampa Bay leads the NFL in interceptions with 21, including three by Smith. Barber, who is rarely tested, has one. At least now, maybe quarterbacks will throw to his side.

"If Ronde gets a chance to play, he'll be out there," safety John Lynch said. "That's the way that guy is."

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