FOXBORO, Mass. — As he stepped out onto the field for the first time in front of his new home crowd on Sunday, Aqib Talib started to feel the excitement. But as the cheers of the near 70,000 fans filling the seats at Gillette Stadium echoed from end to end for him, Talib made sure not to let his nerves get in the way of making a lasting impression.
“Oh, when they said my name at the beginning, I got a pretty good welcome in,” Talib said of his debut. “It made me feel pretty good. Made me a little bit more excited than I already was.”
With the scored tied 14-14 midway through the second quarter, Talib not only lived up to the expectations of leaving a lasting impression but he also turned the tide of the game.
Talib dropped back into coverage and intercepted an errant deep ball from Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck. But after picking the ball out of midair, Talib turned his attention to the open field in front of him and did exactly what he was brought to New England to do: make plays.
A few nifty moves and 69 yards later, Talib was strutting his way into the end zone for the go-ahead touchdown. The touchdown motivated the Patriots on both sides of the ball and sparked a 38-10 run the rest of the way, even if Talib wouldn’t admit his play ignited the outburst.
“A lot of plays motivated the defense,” Talib said sounding like a prototypical Patriot after the game. “It [the interception return] was one of the early plays, but we had a couple tackles for loss before that.”
Talib may not have looked at his play as the start of the rally, but his teammates were happy to acknowledge his impact on the game.
“Oh yeah, that’s a big spark. Anytime we get a turnover or a takeaway, it really gets the defense going, it gets the team going,” Devin McCourty said of Talib’s touchdown. “But when you can turn it into points, it kind of gives you momentum and leads you into getting another defensive stop, offense going down there and scoring another touchdown. I think Aqib [Talib] did a good job of just, once he got the ball in his hands, finding the end zone.”
Rob Ninkovich, who came up with a big turnover of his own off a strip-sack on Luck, joined the party by piling on some more praise for Talib.
“He’s out there making plays and scoring,” Ninkovich said. “I think that’s something that you love to have on defense — a guy that you know when he touches the ball, something is going to happen; something great is going to happen.”
While Talib’s play certainly helped spark the Patriots scoring spree, he also provided some much-needed confidence to a struggling defense.
After Luck sliced apart the Patriots defense during the first two drives of the game, thrusting the Colts out to an early 14-7 lead, the defense settled in and followed the example set by their new defensive playmaker.
With the confidence of a true cover-corner on the outside, the Patriots secondary put together their best effort of the season. The defense defended a season-high 11 passes, including two from both Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard. And speaking of Dennard — who started at cornerback across from Talib — the young rookie picked off his third pass of the season and took after the wily veteran with an 87-yard touchdown return of his own.
Talib’s performance was not perfect by any means, and the five-year veteran was more than willing to acknowledge his faults.
“It was a little sloppy, my feet [were] everywhere, but it’ll get better as I get back in these pads and get back in better shape. I think I’ll be alright,” Talib said before dropping a little humor to lighten the mood. “That’s what they pay me for.”
He may still have some work to do before returning to the player he believes he can be, but his influence is already wearing off onto the rest of the Patriots secondary. And that’s something this team could desperately use.