NFC East-leading New York (4-2) will look to Barber to continue his steady production as it seek a fourth straight win in a matchup with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (2-4) on Sunday at Giants Stadium.
Barber has announced his intention to retire after the season, but his decision to stop playing has nothing to do with declining ability. The 31-year-old running back has rushed for more than 100 yards in each of the last three games, and his 647 rushing yards and 869 yards from scrimmage lead the NFL.
The Giants will be facing a Tampa Bay team that ranks 30th in rush defense at 152.3 yards allowed per game, meaning New York’s star back is likely to see another heavy workload Sunday. The Bucs are 27th in total defense with 354.7 yards per contest.
The Giants may need a big performance from Barber and the offense with their defense banged up. Linebacker LaVar Arrington ruptured his left Achilles’ tendon in the Giants’ 36-22 win over Dallas on Monday night, finishing him for the year in the midst of his most effective game as a Giant.
“Injuries happen in this game, and for everybody to take the gloom-and-doom approach is not … it’s not the way that we’re going to approach it,” said Giants coach Tom Coughlin, whose team has a 122-46 second-half scoring advantage.
Coughlin refused to say who would take over at strongside linebacker for Arrington, who signed a seven-year contract worth $49 million before the season. Carlos Emmons, who was starting on the weakside until injuring his chest against Seattle on Sept. 24, appears ready to return, but Brandon Short has played very well there. One option would be for Coughlin to move Emmons, an 11-year veteran, to the strong side, where he started in 2005.
At least for one game, the Giants defense seemed to have plenty of depth to overcome the injuries, intercepting four passes as New York moved into first in the division, a half-game ahead of Philadelphia.
While there’s some doubt as to whether New York’s depleted defense can continue to be effective, there seems little question that Barber will be tough for the Bucs to contain. He ran for 114 yards on 27 carries against the Cowboys, his third straight 100-yard rushing game and fourth this season, as New York improved to 3-0 against NFC East opponents.
Dallas came into Monday’s game as the NFL’s best team at stopping the run, allowing 67.0 rushing yards per game.
Barber, the Giants’ all-time leading rusher with 9,434 yards, set an NFL record by leading the Giants in rushing for the 70th straight game last week.
“We have to keep getting better,” Barber said.
If his twin brother, Buccaneers cornerback Ronde Barber, keeps wreaking havoc against the opposition’s passing attack the way he did last week, Tiki rushing the ball could take on even greater importance for New York. Ronde Barber returned two interceptions for touchdowns last week as Tampa Bay defeated the Eagles 23-21 for its second straight victory.
“You get opportunities,” Ronde Barber said. “We’ve had a bunch of them in the course of the season—in the secondary, especially—and we haven’t taken advantage of them.”
The Bucs won on former Giants kicker Matt Bryant’s stunning 62-yard field goal in the final second. Tampa Bay’s back-to-back victories have come by three total points.
“What can I say?” Tampa Bay coach Jon Gruden said. “It was a dramatic win for us.”
While the victory gives the Bucs some momentum as they try to push their win streak to three, their two straight victories came at home. The Bucs are 0-2 away from Raymond James Stadium this year.
Tampa Bay hasn’t faced the Giants at the Meadowlands since Nov. 30, 1997, a 20-8 Buccaneers victory. New York, though, won the first five meetings between the teams at Giants Stadium.
Buccaneers quarterback Chris Simms will miss a fourth straight game Sunday because of a splenectomy, preventing him from facing the team his father Phil quarterbacked from 1979-93 for the first time.
The younger Simms’ replacement, Bruce Gradkowski, had his worst start of the season last week, completing 13 of 26 passes for 104 yards.
With the defense ailing, New York could use another strong performance from Michael Strahan. The defensive end had two sacks last week to increase his season total to three and his career total to 132 1/2 , moving him into a tie with Lawrence Taylor for the most in franchise history.
The Giants had six sacks Sunday to push their total to 16 over their three-game win streak.
The Barbers have started against each other once, in the Buccaneers’ 19-13 home win on Nov. 24, 2003, the last matchup between the teams. Tiki Barber ran for 55 yards on 13 carries and caught five passes for 34 yards, and Ronde had three tackles and an assist.
New York lost for the third time in four games against Tampa Bay since the twins entered the NFL in 1997.
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