FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – As a rookie in 2008 with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, cornerback Aqib Talib looked like he was ready to experience an early taste of NFL playoff action. The Buccaneers were 9-3 entering their final four games before collapsing down the stretch to finish 9-7 (and out of the playoffs) in Jon Gruden’s final season as coach.
That’s as close as Talib came to the playoffs – until now.
“One of the first things I thought about when I was traded here was that I was definitely going to have a chance to play in these playoffs,” Talib said Thursday as the Patriots continued preparations for Sunday’s divisional-round game against the visiting Texans. “I’m very excited. Very excited. I watched them every year, every game. It’s the best football you’re going to watch. It’s good to be a part of it.”
Talib, who was part of Buccaneers teams that went 3-13, 10-6 and 4-12 after that rookie season, appears primed to make a full-time return to the field after a hip injury sidelined him in the season finale and he played just eight snaps in the Dec. 23 win over the Jaguars.
“I definitely feel good. I’m still going to treatment every day, trying to get better, but my body feels good though,” he said.
Talib was limited to 35 snaps in the Patriots’ 42-14 win over the Texans on Dec. 10, as he missed the second half with the hip injury that has hampered him down the stretch. He was matching up with star Texans receiver Andre Johnson for a good portion of the first half, and Johnson had four receptions for 58 yards in the first 30 minutes, before finishing with eight catches for 95 yards.
“He’s a big, strong fast receiver with good routes. He definitely knows how to get open,” Talib recalled of the matchup against 6-foot-3, 230-pound Johnson. “I’ve definitely had to prepare for him – it’s a long week.”
Talib’s presence would have an important trickle-down effect for the Patriots’ secondary, allowing Devin McCourty to play safety. Talib said he’s spent time talking with McCourty this week, as well as Kyle Arrington, about what to expect in the playoffs.
“They say everything gets a little more crisp and you yourself needs to get a little more crisp too. Everyone takes their game up a level and you need to match that,” he said.
“I expect the intensity to turn up. It’s definitely turned up in practice and in the meetings. If it’s turned up there, I definitely expect it to get turned up in the games. It’s still going to be football, but I expect the coaches to coach a little more aggressive and to play a little more aggressive.”