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Aqib Talib is a risk Patriots can't pass up

Posted by Chad Finn, Globe Staff  November 2, 2012 09:22 AM

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Tell me how the season ends, and I'll tell you if the Patriots paid too much for Aqib Talib, the talented, troubled cornerback who was acquired along with a seventh-round pick Thursday from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a fourth-rounder.
I know, that reads like total cop-out. But I don't think it is. Sometimes the sports media's ever-increasing emphasis on instant, polarizing reaction -- He's a shutdown corner, New Orleans here we come! Are you kidding, they've lost their moral compass! -- overwhelms all long-term thinking and common sense. And by sometimes, I mean most of the time.

The deal for Talib is a particularly glaring example. This is a situation that demands the passage of time and the application of common sense before any honest conclusion can be drawn. It's a daring trade, one that should enhance to some degree their short-term championship hopes but comes with absolutely nothing resembling a guarantee.

Talib is a 26-year-old former first-round pick who instantly becomes their best cover cornerback and who plays a physical style that should make him an immediate fit. He also instantly becomes the Patriot most likely to make the All-Police Log Team, a perception that is emphasized when you Google his name and the photo that comes with his Wikipedia bio is a mugshot that looks like J.B. Smoove's evil twin. Talib is an accomplished knucklehead.

Yeah, there's risk, though given the leadership of the Patriots, the impressive maturity and intelligence of most of their core players on defense, and that he has just eight games left on his contract probably diminishes the likelihood that he'll be a locker-room nuisance.

If he is, they can send him on the Adalius Thomas Memorial Acela train straight out of town. But the possibility of reward is tough to resist, and for now Patriots fans should be glad they didn't.

No one around here needs to be reminded that the difference between winning a Super Bowl and forever lamenting a lost opportunity can come down to one play, one interception, one deflected pass, one tackle shy of the first-down marker. Ravens will always be bitter about Sterling Moore's touchdown-saving play against Lee Evans in the AFC Championship Game. Patriots fans will never erase Mario Manningham and David Tyree from the football vaults in their minds. Those lost opportunities stay with you, even in an era of extraordinary, almost impossibly prolonged, success.

The Patriots are again in a position as one of the favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl -- and probably in better position than they were a season ago at this time, a season that ended with ... well, you know. At midseason last year, they were 5-3, having lost two straight games coming out of the bye, to the Steelers and Giants. The defensive backfield was a mess (sound familiar?), with the likes of Josh Barrett, Antwaun Molden and James Ihedigbo playing significant roles in those two defeats. Eventually, they sorted it out to some degree, with Devin McCourty moving to safety and Moore emerging into a key role, enough so that they made it to Indianapolis, where they wound up ... again, you know, just a play or two short.

Talib is a superior cornerback to anyone who was on the roster last year, and his acquisition is the first real admission of the obvious this year by the Patriots, namely that this disheveled defensive backfield is the Achilles' heel of this entire team. The offense has extraordinary balance, leading the NFL in total yardage while ranking fifth in both rushing and passing. The defense has promise, with a deep, talented front seven that should become more creative with the return of Dont'a Hightower. They may not run the table from the ninth game to the Super Bowl as they did last year, but it is not hard to envision this team winning a championship.

They've essentially admitted to their problem -- perhaps their sole legitimate problem, not their 1-percenter "problems" like figuring out to utilize Aaron Hernandez and Wes Welker and Brandon Lloyd and Rob Gronkowski in the passing game -- by acquiring someone else's problem.

A fourth-round pick will feel like a steep price if Talib falters here. But perhaps, as the Patriots reshuffle their defensive backfield just as they did a year ago, he will prove to be that guy who makes the big play in the big moment, the ultimate difference between a fourth championship and being stuck on three for the eighth straight season.

Tell me how the season ends, and then I'll tell you whether giving up that fourth-rounder for him was the correct thing to do. But for now, I'll tell you this: I'm glad they're going to find out.

Perhaps it works, perhaps it doesn't, but bringing him in confirms beyond all doubt that the only goal right now is to win Super Bowl XLVII.

About Touching All The Bases

Irreverence and insight from Chad Finn, a Globe/Boston.com sports writer and media columnist. A winner of several national and regional writing awards, he is the founder and sole contributor to the TATB blog, which launched in December 2004. Yes, he realizes how lucky he is.

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