Aqib Talib was arguably the most valuable Patriot, and his injury on Sunday highlighted it
While the beginning of the AFC Championship wasn’t the greatest start for the New England Patriots offense, the start of the game for the defense was spectacular. The stout run-defense was swallowing up the Ravens run game and their receivers could not gain separation against a tight Patriots secondary. It seemed like it was going to be a good day for them when on a third down, Aqib Talib jumped a route, knocked the ball down and gave the ball back to the New England Patriots offense.
This was also the play that changed the AFC Championship for the worse. The second that the play was over, the group I was watching the game with noticed that Aqib Talib was hopping off the field, the sign that a leg muscle had been tweaked. We kept hoping and praying that it wasn’t a muscle pull, that maybe it was just a celebratory hop after making a big-play early in the game. Then, CBS showed the replays and it was evident something was wrong. Talib knocked the ball down, and immediately reached to grab the back of his leg. It was a pull or strain of the hamstring, but no matter what his day was done and the Patriots’ defense wouldn’t be the same.
All year long, the talk was that the Patriots’ MVP was, once again, quarterback Tom Brady. The play of the defense after the Talib injury made it pretty clear that Talib was at least cooperative, if not the, most valuable player for the New England Patriots. When Talib made his debut as a Patriot earlier this season, his first big play was an interception that he returned for a touchdown. The Patriots defense changed that day. Instead of being vanilla and “bend but don’t break” that the Patriots used to sneak their way into the Super Bowl last season, they took more chances. Talib’s strength allowed the Patriots to play more 2 deep, man under defense and allow Talib to shut down half the field with safety help over the top. It also let the Patriots get after the quarterback and force bad passes. When Talib left the game, it forced the Patriots back into their vanilla defense, and the Ravens exploited it for big plays down the field. When the Patriots offense failed to get going that was the ballgame. It was the first of many turning points in a game that the Patriots never deserved to win.
That injury may prevent the Patriots from resigning Talib this off-season. He was available due to off the field issues as well as being an expiring contract and he has suddenly played himself into a multi-year deal. Furthermore, contracts in all sports are about player value. Agents negotiate contracts based on their values to a team and Talib leaving the game due to injury greatly increased his value to the New England Patriots. Not only did he make the Patriots defense better, but he also made players like Devin McCourty and the much maligned Kyle Arrington by allowing them to play more natural positions in safety and nickel-corner respectively. Talib is only one of many free-agents the Patriots would like to resign, and they don’t have the cap-space to resign all of them. Since Talib’s value has sky-rocketed after what happened to the Patriots’ defense after the injury, he might become the most expensive.
The Patriots and their fans would prefer the team to resign him this off-season because he made the Patriots as a team so much better than the one that was a play away from winning the Super Bowl a season ago. It’s not very often where an injury can increase the price of a player to a team. Sadly, this might just be the case.