So, yeah, handing Aqib Talib a giant contract extension doesn’t seem like such a good idea anymore.
Those who have followed Talib and watched his ascent as perhaps the most important player on the Patriots’ defense have been all about New England giving the cornerback a new deal. There were always disclaimers about Talib’s “checkered past,” of course, but with the defense finally settling in (for the first time since the team’s last Super Bowl) and Talib not getting into trouble, that past seemed like nothing more than footnote.
Cue the shock when Talib went on Monday Night Football and embarrassed himself in front of the nation.
The Patriots are used to having players with off-field problems and behavioral issues. What happened with Aaron Hernandez has made everyone glancing over the criminal records of the players New England brings in think harder about their various backgrounds.
But rarely has someone watching a New England game seen this. Talib’s behavior on Monday night was far beyond being out of character for a Patriots player — it was ridiculous for an NFL player or any athlete. Talib was making the likes of Ndamukong Suh look normal as he rolled out one childish action after another, ratcheting up the intensity so fast that an ejection appeared to be in order as he started inexplicably grabbing Steve Smith’s face mask in the end zone in the first quarter.
“Inexplicably” is perhaps not the correct term. There are reasons behind this. One is that Talib has always struggled to control himself on the field, especially around receivers like Smith, who can get under his skin. Another is that Talib and Smith have a history, dating back to when Talib played corner for the Bucs in the NFC South against Smith’s Panthers. The final reason appears to be whatever kind of magic juice gets pumped into players whenever they’re going on national television, as Talib was out of control pretty quick in this one.
The strangest thing about Talib’s repeated outbursts Monday — and there were a few — was that Talib, in attempting to assert his superiority in his turf war with Smith, may have actually undone all the respect he’s gathered as a key member of the Patriots. Talib is a good cornerback — a really, really good one. He gets burnt occasionally, but for the most part, he can be counted on to shut down other teams’ best receivers. He’s the only player on the Patriots who can be tossed into the ether on one-on-one coverage, also a rarity in the league, and his nose for the ball in coming up with interceptions earlier this season — in some of the biggest moments — also set him apart.
Talib didn’t just hurt his contract chances by appearing very un-Patriot-like Monday. He hurt his standing in the rest of the league, and not just because he confirmed that his behavioral issues are not behind him. Rather, the disappearance of the dominant form he had shown earlier this season, coupled with the increasing impression that he was just out of control, made Talib look like an unhinged player that can’t be counted on.
He ended the night giving up just four catches for 62 yards to Smith, but the enduring image will be his histrionics from early in the game, as well as the many penalties he rang up as he made his personal feud with Smith a source of agitation for himself and the team.
Talib wasn’t anything close to a team player Monday night, when the Patriots had no choice but to leave him on the field in a game they needed him in to win. But worse yet, Talib wasn’t anything close to a good player. His contributions were washed out by penalties and the kind of unease that sweeps any group that knows it now includes a crazy cousin, with no doubt that the defensive players were hoping the effort they put in on each play wouldn’t soon be called back because, say, Talib was hopping around the field holding on to one of Smith’s legs.
Talib looked like a joke Monday night. And for a player who had come so far in convincing everyone that he was serious about being as good as promised and keeping his career alive, that’s a disappointment.
Even more foreboding for the Patriots, it winds the clock back to zero on figuring out whether they have someone they can depend on at lockdown cornerback.