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FARINELLA: All eyes on the New Guy - The Sun Chronicle : Patriots

FARINELLA: All eyes on the New Guy

Patriots newcomer Aqib Talib lends spark for Patriots rout of Colts

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Posted: Monday, November 19, 2012 1:21 am

The New Guy didn't start his New England Patriots career bathed in glory.

Cornerback Aqib Talib was a second slow and a step behind when Andrew Luck threw a touchdown pass to the guy he was covering late in the first quarter of Sunday's game.

Those that doubted Bill Belichick's latest reclamation project were changing their tune with 10:59 left in the second quarter, however.

Talib, whose path to the Patriots was about as checkered as any in recent memory, caught an overthrown ball intended for Reggie Wayne at the Patriots' 41, started his progress on the return to the right side of the field, then cut left and outran the pursuit to score his first touchdown for his new team and start them on their way to a 59-24 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.

It was an uplifting performance by the newcomer from Tampa Bay, if overall, a flawed one. He scored one of the two touchdowns produced by the secondary, but he was also beaten for two touchdowns and looked a little out of shape at times - something to be expected following a four-week suspension from the NFL (for using the banned medication Adderall) and subsequent down time as he acquainted himself with the way the Patriots do things.

For all of the nit-picking that can be done, however, there's no denying that his presence on the field lent some sort of spark to the weakest link on this Patriot team.

"It was a lot of fun, man," the fifth-year cornerback said. "We executed in all three phases of the game, won the game and had a lot of fun out there."

"You talk about going out there and trying to stop an offense, and getting turnovers and all those good things," said cornerback-turned-safety Devin McCourty, "but when you score points, that really lifts your team up. To come out and score two touchdowns on defense and then a lot of those guys are on special teams, too, so to help Julian (Edelman) get in the end zone on a punt return, that's really big."

Indeed, Sunday's win was about as complete as the Patriots could make it.

Offensively, they scored three times from the air (two TDs for Rob Gronkowski, one by Edelman) and twice on the ground (runs by Stevan Ridley and Shane Vereen), and added a 31-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski for good measure.

Defensively, Talib's 59-yard interception return was trumped by an 87-yarder by rookie Alfonzo Dennard, the first time since the 2001 regular-season finale at Carolina that the Patriots have returned two picks for touchdowns.

And the special teams were not to be left out, as Edelman broke a 68-yard punt return for a score in the second quarter. That, and the 2-yard touchdown catch to open the second half, marked the first time that a Patriot had caught a TD pass and scored on a return in the same game since Irving Fryar did so in 1985. Edelman hadn't even been born yet.

But all eyes were on the New Guy - not just because of his notorious background, which included assaults on former teammates, cab drivers and others and the drug suspension, but also because of the desperate need the Patriots' porous secondary for reinforcements.

On the interception, which came two plays after Edelman's return tied the score at 14-14, Talib was the beneficiary of an overthrown ball from Luck, the talented rookie, to veteran receiver Reggie Wayne.

"He kind of threw it right to me," Talib said. "The defense did a great job of setting up that wall, and I got into the end zone."

Later, Dennard admitted that he watched himself on the end-zone scoreboard as he raced down the right sideline with his return, making sure that Luck was not closing in pursuit.

Talib said he didn't have that luxury.

"I had a little action in front of me," he said. "His was different than mine, so I was watching what was going on in front of me."

As noted before, there were a few smudges on the ledger from Sunday's game. On the first-quarter score by T.Y. Hilton in the back of the end zone from 14 yards out, "I just got undercut at the goal line," Talib said. "I didn't play good technique. I let him wide me to get back inside."

Then on a 43-yarder from Luck to Hilton at the start of the fourth quarter, "I had my eyes in the wrong spot," he said. "My eyes were exactly where they shouldn't be, which was on the quarterback so I watched him score a touchdown on me, that's what I did."

Belichick will undoubtedly review all of that before the team this morning, and corrections will be made. But in general, Talib's performance was worthwhile (seven tackles, one pass defense) and uplifting to a secondary that needed a shot in the arm.

And he promised better things to come.

"I've got to get a lot better," he said. "I was a little sloppy and my feet were everywhere. But it'll get better as I get back in these pads and get back into a little better shape. I think I'll be all right."

MARK FARINELLA may be reached at 508-236-0315 or via email at mfarinel@thesunchronicle.com. Read Farinella's blog, "Blogging Fearlessly," at thesunchronicle.com/blogs/markfarinella.

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