|Aqib Talib retuns an interception for a touchdown in his Patriots' debut. (Getty Images)|
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Tom Brady's routine when his defense is on the field has been the same for some time. He'll sit near the identical spot on the bench, spreading out a towel to sit on, his helmet placed neatly to his right, and Brady will sip incessantly on a green bottle.
When his time to take the field is near, he'll toss a few warm-up passes. One thing Brady will do -- though it's rare -- is glance at one of the big screens in Gillette Stadium. This was one of those rare times.
His counterpart, Andrew Luck, is the one who caught Brady's attention. Just like many others not just in the football world but across the sports universe, everyone wants a glimpse of the next superstar quarterback. And though Luck and the Colts were blown out by Brady and New England, 59-24, Luck still did not disappoint with a myriad of beautiful throws and Ben Roethlisberger-like escape maneuvers.
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The story coming into this game was Luck versus Brady but those are stories for the superficially fixated. It's window dressing. Luck never had a real chance against Bill Belichick. Belichick is to rookie throwers what Moby Dick was to Ahab. Luck entered the game as a promising rookie, left it as one, but left it battered, blown out, though more educated about the puzzle mill that is a Belichick defense.
"We either hit him or made him move around a little bit back there," said Belichick of Luck.
That's the Patriots humility talking. The Patriot Way is to say nothing. New England plays at the Jets on Thursday and no one wanted to celebrate for long. Brady took four questions from the media and then bolted.
Luck threw two will-crushing, pick-six interceptions that sealed it for the Patriots. The last time New England did that was 2002. It was Belichick, not Brady, who bent the young Luck over a knee and taught him a lesson.
The Patriots also had a platoon of other stars help lead the battering. Julian Edelman dominated on special teams with a 68-yard score on a punt return, tight end Rob Gronkowski had two scores, and then there was Aqib Talib. Out of all of those players it is maybe Talib who could make New England the best team in the conference.
You saw the Talib ability on one, brilliant play. Luck made a horrible mistake by floating the football, Tony Romo-like, into the Patriots' secondary where Talib was waiting. He grabbed it out of the air and ran 59 yards for the score. It was a dazzling play.
Talib is one of the NFL's top-10 physical talents at defensive back but he's also a top-10 jerk. At the rookie symposium in 2008, he got into a fight with a teammate. He's been arrested several times, on occasion the charges sticking, sometimes not. And he's coming off a suspension for violating the league's substance abuse policy for Adderall use.
The new coaching regime in Tampa wanted a clean slate and traded him away for -- considering his level of athletic ability -- the football equivalent of a steak and mashed potatoes. To paraphrase someone who put it brilliantly: the Buccaneers saw a druggy, jerky problem child -- the Patriots saw a discount.
And here he is. With a tiny amount of practice, he helped change the direction of the game against Luck, and that is what Talib will do. If he can stay out of pill bottles and handcuffs, he is one of maybe the top five most gifted defensive backs in football. Not only can he cover, as he did with Luck's duck, he has devastating return ability.
What Talib does is add a threat opposing quarterbacks must account for. He's good enough to take away an offense's main receiving weapon and frightening enough with his return skills to keep an entire opposing staff awake at night. No, he's not Deion Sanders, but he is what Nnamdi Asomugha was supposed to be in Philadelphia, and that's pretty damn good.
During these recent Patriots Super Bowl runs, two Super Bowl appearances ending in losses to the Giants, the Patriots could always score. New England's 59 points against the Colts tied a team record set just three years ago. What the Patriots haven't had in recent seasons is the kind of athletes in the secondary they have on offense. Talib gives them that.
There is almost a trickle-up effect with Talib as well. Don't think the Patriots' Alfonzo Dennard 87-yard interception return for a score had little to do with Talib. After Talib's pick, you could see Luck staying the hell away from Talib, and looking elsewhere.
No, Talib isn't perfect, as he got burned a few times, but considering he's in a new system and hadn't played for weeks, it was a smashing debut.
Luck was still impressive despite the blowout and interceptions. He took some brutal shots including one just under the chin and despite the two pick-sixes kept chucking the ball downfield. He finished 27 of 50 for 334 yards and three interceptions. It was Luck's fifth 300 yard game, a record for rookies.
After the game, Brady and Luck met near midfield, and the two shook hands. Past and future of the division in one camera shot.
For now, this time is still Brady's time, and if players like Talib can contribute, it will keep being Brady's time deep into the postseason.