Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Right Place at the Right Time

Aqib Talib was exactly where the Buccaneers needed him to be at the key moments Sunday, providing two of the biggest plays in Tampa Bay's 38-35 win

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On Sunday in Arizona, Ronde Barber played in his 200th NFL game, which is another remarkable accomplishment in a sublime career.  Barber hasn't missed a game since the 1998 opener and has never sat out a contest due to injury.  He also has a string of 174 consecutive starts going, the longest in league history for a cornerback.

Barber hasn't just been durable since the Tampa Bay Buccaneers drafted him in 1997, he's been one of the best players of his generation.  His inclusion on the NFL's All-2000s team confirms that.

But we're not here to talk about Ronde Barber today.  We're here to talk about the player who is rapidly emerging as the next great Buccaneer cornerback.

Barber has started a total of 191 games, all with the Buccaneers.  In that time, he has been joined in the starting lineup by 14 other cornerbacks (occasionally in a nickel set with an extra corner).  Some of those 14 fellow corners have been outstanding – Donnie Abraham surely heads the list and Brian Kelly had a very good Buccaneer run – and some were forgettable.  Now it's Talib who is Barber's primary running mate, and it will likely be Talib who breaks in a series of new Buccaneer partners down the road.

Certainly, if he has more games like the one he turned in Sunday in Arizona, he will soon be recognized as one of the NFL's top playmakers, much as Barber has been for the balance of his career.  Talib stung the Cardinals with seven tackles, two interceptions and two passes defensed, and both of his picks were critical in fashioning Tampa Bay's 38-35 win.

"They both came at a pretty timely time, Talib conceded later. "Just one of those days. Right place at the right time."

In the second quarter, Talib read a sideline pass by Arizona quarterback Max Hall to WR Steve Breaston and zipped around him to make a leaping catch, returning the pick 45 yards for a go-ahead score.  Beginning with that touchdown, the Bucs turned a 14-14 tie into a 31-14 lead and looked to be in control in the third quarter until Arizona went on a three-TD binge of its own.  After Tampa Bay recaptured the lead on LeGarrette Blount's second TD run with five minutes to play, Talib ended a scary Cardinals scoring threat with his interception in front of Larry Fitzgerald at the Bucs' six-yard line.

"On the first one, the wideout pushed out with a stem where usually it's an out ball coming with that stem, so I jumped the out and scored a touchdown on it," Talib explained. "The last one was in Cover Two. They ran double slants. We squeeze on double slants and [Derek] Anderson tried to fit it in there."

Talib finished the game with a pick off each of the Cardinals' two quarterbacks, and even though the Bucs didn't envision seeing Anderson in relief of the rookie Hall, they did think there would be some opportunities for turnovers.  Talib, in fact, thought he was primed for a big day, and he was right.

"I won't tell you what he told me before the game, but I think he had an inclination that it was going to be one of those days," said Barber of Talib. "We knew we were going to have our opportunities. We didn't know they were going to win the game for us like they did, but his pick in the fourth quarter is about as clutch a play as I've seen around here in a long, long time. It's a credit to him. It's a credit to our defense stepping up when they needed to. It's great to be a part of it."

Those two interceptions gave Talib five on the season through just seven games, which has him just one behind Washington's DeAngelo Hall at the top of the NFL rankings in that category.  He has already tied his career high and, after picking off four passes as a rookie and another five last year, he is the first Buccaneer since Donnie Abraham from 1999-2001 to have at least four interceptions in three straight years.

Since the start of the 2008 season, when Talib entered the league as a first-round draft pick by the Buccaneers, only three players have more interceptions than Talib: Charles Woodson (18), Asante Samuel (16) and Hall (15).  Talib is tied with Ed Reed and Nick Collins for fourth place, and he is easily the leader among players who entered the NFL in 2008.  From that pool, only the Cardinals' Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, with 11, is close.

As for the draft that produced Talib's pick at the 20th spot overall, it appears to include a talented group of defensive backs, such as Rodgers-Cromartie, Brandon Flowers, Mike Jenkins and Tracy Porter.  Talib is currently at the head of that class; of the 45 defensive backs drafted in 2008, these are the top 10 interceptors so far:

Player

Team

INTs

  1. Aqib Talib

Buccaneers

14

  1. Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie

Cardinals

11

  1. Brandon Flowers

Chiefs

9

  1. Terrell Thomas

Giants

8

5t. Zack Bowman

Bears

7

5t. Mike Jenkins

Cowboys

7

7t. Antoine Cason

Chargers

6

7t. Tracy Porter

Saints

6

7t. Charles Godfrey

Panthers

6

  1. Dwight Lowery

Jets

5

Talib's two-pick outing in Arizona wasn't even his personal record.  Last season in a tight 16-13 loss at Washington he tied Barber's team record with three interceptions in a single game.  This one was likely more gratifying, however, since the Bucs ended up on the winning side, and very well might not have without his contributions.

"Coach put me in the right place at the right time," said Talib, simply.

The former Kansas Star leads eight different Buccaneers who have combined to make Tampa Bay the NFL's top intercepting team so far, with 14.  That's an area in which this young time is likely to continue to excel.

"We've got a great, opportunistic team as far as DBs and linebackers going to hunt balls, and we felt like if we had the opportunity to go compete for those balls in the air that we could win some of those battles," said Head Coach Raheem Morris. "And we were able to win some of those battles today. They won some as well. They were able to get some yards off. We weren't trying to play man-to-man coverages and lock them down and let the ball hit you in the back. We were more interested in trying to cash in and get our interceptions, get our opportunities and then we had to score with them because that's our job."

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