Denver Broncos | News

Aqib Talib shines in return to Tampa Bay

TAMPA -- When Aqib Talib and the Denver Broncos checked in at the team hotel on Saturday afternoon, the calls of "Aqib" and "Talib" rang up from the lower lobby. From a balcony above the fracas, Talib shouted back and waved to the crowd.

The Broncos' trip to Tampa was all about winning a football game, but that didn't mean Talib didn't also enjoy interacting with the fans in the city where his NFL career began.

"It was special, man," Talib said. "I got a warm welcome off the plane, into the hotel, on the field. I got a warm welcome, man. To able to put on a show like that in front of the fans that I still have in Tampa, it was special."

Those warm interactions wouldn't stop and continued as Talib ran off the field after Sunday's 27-7 win over the Buccaneers. As he slapped hands with fans -- both Broncos and Buccaneers supporters alike -- a fan tossed a jersey and a marker over the railing. Talib essentially had no choice but to sign it, but it wasn't like he minded.

After a game like the one he had Sunday -- one that ended with him receiving the game ball from Head Coach Gary Kubiak -- there was no reason for Talib to be anything but happy.

"It's phenomenal," said linebacker Dekoda Watson, who also played in Tampa. "To be able to come back and have that feeling ... You want to be able to perform your best where you start. Just like Randy Moss said, like he said today, 'When you go back to a team and play a team that let you go or didn't want you, you want to prove that they made a mistake.' I hate to sound like that, but it's the truth."

That statement began as soon as Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston dropped back for his first pass attempt and Talib lurked on the same Raymond James Stadium grass he used to cover as a Buccaneer.

As Bucs wide receiver Adam Humphries followed teammate Vincent Jackson across the middle of the field on a route combination that Talib spoke knowledgeably about after the game, the 30-year-old cornerback jumped the pass.

Talib weaved his way 25 yards toward the end zone and looked like he might find paydirt for the second time this season. But then center Joe Hawley got in the way.

"I let a lineman tackle me," Talib said. "I'm embarrassed. A lineman tackled me today. He might've been the first lineman to tackle me. I just told Kapri Bibbs how a lineman would never tackle me. ... It was crazy, man. But I'm still excited I got two interceptions."

The second one came with the score knotted at 7 and Winston looking for a big play to Mike Evans. Talib, helping patrol the back end in Cover 2, came up to make the play and take the ball away. A few plays later, running back C.J. Anderson would plunge into the end zone to help the Broncos take a lead they wouldn't relinquish.

At that point, Talib's game wasn't just a good story. It was a turning point in slowing Winston and the potent Tampa Bay offense. And in the eyes of Chris Harris Jr., it in some ways marked the end of the Buccaneers' chances.

"That's a perfect homecoming," Harris Jr. said. "Coming home, and being able to show out like he did, that was great. We needed those picks. After he made those two picks, the game was kind of over then after that."

There was no better way for him to play in the place he spent the first five years of his career. The Buccaneers spent the 20th pick in the 2008 draft to select Talib, and he repaid them in quick fashion. He recorded 18 interceptions and scored three touchdowns during those years in Tampa.

But Talib would move on to New England and later to Denver, where he signed as a coveted free agent in 2014.

During those years, which included three straight Pro Bowl appearance from 2013-2015, Talib was among the best at the cornerback spot, and he earned a Super Bowl ring last season.

The nature of the NFL's schedule kept him from returning to Tampa Bay since he joined the Patriots, but the wait was well worth it. He added to his lead in interceptions among cornerbacks since 2008 and recorded the fourth multi-interception game of his career.

"He's playing special," Kubiak said. "Obviously he's having a big year. We're only one month into it. This is where he got his start. I had him talk to the team last night. Aqib, he's a hell of a player. He's really turning into a leader and obviously played big today."

When Talib spoke to the team, he told the team to play with the same characteristic that he seems to wholeheartedly embrace: confidence. Talib told his teammates to wake up feeling confident. There's no reason not to feel that way after how they've played the first month of the season, he said.

On Sunday afternoon -- which quickly turned to Sunday night after a lengthy weather delay -- Talib showed off that confidence and swagger.

It echoed before the game in the team hotel as he basked in the calls of his fans in the lobby. It echoed after the game as he stood in gold jewelry and an impressive suit.

And it most definitely echoed during the game during Talib's homecoming for the ages.

This article has been reproduced in a new format and may be missing content or contain faulty links. Please use the Contact Us link in our site footer to report an issue.