While closing in on an impressive franchise milestone, Bucs CB Ronde Barber is preparing for a daunting assignment Saturday at Carolina.
In his 15th NFL season, Barber will tie former LB Derrick Brooks for the most games played in Buccaneer history (224) when he lines up against the surging Panthers. Barber, 36, can break the tie and stand alone in Tampa Bay's record books if he plays in the Jan. 1 season finale at Atlanta.
"It's a reward for consistency, I guess,'' said Barber, whose 1,332 career tackles rank second in franchise annals to Brooks' total of 2,198. "I do have a high pain tolerance.''
With CB Aqib Talib shelved for the season because of a hamstring injury, Barber is likely to line up across from 32-year-old WR Steve Smith on Saturday. Smith, who has six 100-yard games against the Bucs in his accomplished career, has been rejuvenated by the presence of rookie QB Cam Newton.
"It's mutual respect,'' Barber said of his upcoming duel against Smith, third in the league with 1,299 receiving yards. "I love the way he plays and it looks like he's 25 again.''
If Bucs coach Raheem Morris has his way, Barber will return for a 16th pro season with a streak of 199 consecutive starts.
"He's an iron man, our Cal Ripken Jr., so to speak,'' Morris said. "Ronde takes care of his body. He eats the right things, he does the right things, he practices the right way. If Ronde wants to play, we're going to want him back.
"I know I put a lot of pressure on (GM) Mark Dominik when I say that, but good. It's not like Ronde has slowed down. He told me I should be the first person to tell him he can't play. I'm not prepared to tell him that yet because I'm finding more roles for him.''
Trouble up front
The Bucs gained only one first down and 50 yards in the opening half against Dallas, trailing 28-0 as they left the field to a chorus of boos at Raymond James Stadium.
Tampa Bay finished with a season low in first downs (7) and total yards (190) while attempting only 43 offensive snaps, the club's lowest total since a Week 3 loss to the Giants in 2009.
"When you lose the battle up front, it's going to be a long day,'' Morris said. "They (offensive line) didn't play as well as they wanted or as well as they could play.''
Morris expects WR Arrelious Benn to play Saturday, two weeks after he suffered a concussion at Jacksonville. …Bucs DE Adrian Clayborn tops all rookie defensive linemen with 7.5 sacks. Clayborn has 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in his past five games. …Newton's mobility has helped Carolina top the 100-yard rushing mark in a franchise-record 12 consecutive games.