Another year, another homecoming for a Patriot-turned-Bronco star.
Last season, it was Wes Welker returning to Foxborough, and that one didn’t go very well. His punt return gaffe late in overtime led to Stephen Gostkowski’s 31-yard field goal that completed New England’s comeback from a 24-0 halftime deficit.
Aqib Talib is hoping for a happier homecoming Sunday when the Denver Broncos (6-1) visit the Patriots (6-2).
Talib isn’t sure what kind of reception he’ll get after signing a six-year, $57 million deal with Denver in the offseason.
“No idea,” Talib said. “That’s probably the last thing I’m worried about.”
Way behind Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski, Brandon LeFell and Julian Edelman.
Talib said he gets jacked up for every game, so he’s not sure if he’s more excited for Sunday’s showdown against his old team.
“We’ve got to put an amp meter on me or something,” he said. “I don’t really judge my `ampness’ for a game. But, yeah, I get pretty excited for every game, though.”
Talib may downplay his return, but teammate DeMarcus Ware said he knows better.
“It’s like a two-headed monster,” Ware said. “You’re going into a big game this week, playoff atmosphere game, but then you’re playing against your team who you played for. So you get really riled up for those games.”
Welker received his share of jeers in his homecoming, but Talib won’t even be Public Enemy No. 1 at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.
That title belongs to another of Denver’s offseason acquisitions, safety T.J. Ward. While with the Browns, Ward’s helmet-to-knee hit on Gronkowski last December sidelined the Patriots’ big tight end for the playoffs. They haven’t spoken with each other since.
Gronkowski is back healthy and presents one of the biggest challenges Denver’s defense has faced so far.
“He’s 6-7, 200-and-who-knows-what,” Talib said. “And then he can run like a wild dog, man. Great hands, great catch radius.”
Similarly, Talib represents one of the biggest tests Brady has had this season.
“I’ve had a lot of practices against Aqib in the year and a-half he was here,” Brady said. “I really enjoyed it. He was a great player, a great competitor, great quickness, great ball awareness. He’s really athletic, got real good speed. So, he does everything that you’re looking for in a top tier corner. He’s had a great season.”
So has Darrelle Revis, who replaced Talib in New England and will likely line up on Demaryius Thomas this weekend like Talib did last year.
Thomas said he never thought Talib would come to Denver.
“I thought he was going to stay there. He was doing great there,” Thomas said. “I’m happy he’s my teammate now. It was one of the toughest battles playing him last year. I’m happy he’s here now.”
So is Peyton Manning, who called Talib the best cornerback he faced last season.
Talib was high on defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio’s wish list that GM John Elway filled in free agency. He’s teamed up with his former college teammate at Kansas, Chris Harris Jr., to give the Broncos one of the top cornerback tandems in the NFL.
Together, they’ve collected five interceptions and 21 pass breakups.
Linebacker Von Miller said Talib has helped toughen up Denver’s defense.
“Aqib welcomes any competition, doesn’t matter who it is,” Miller said. “He’s been successful at all those competitions. He’s been successful against Jimmy Graham, Julius Thomas, Demaryius Thomas, all the big-time talent in the league. Bringing that type of monster into our secondary is just great. It’s just a positive impact on everybody from the linebackers to the defensive line.
“Yeah, I’m glad I have Aqib. If we would’ve had Aqib last year, it would’ve been different, but we got him this year. So, we just got to go out there and play.”
Notes: CB Kayvon Webster was excused from Friday’s practice for personal reasons and was scheduled to meet the Broncos out East. … RB Montee Ball was ruled out for Sunday’s game, the fourth straight game he’ll miss with a groin injury.