TAMPA — Bucs corner Aqib Talib talked about how tough it was to sit out the final four games of last season with a hip injury, and watching the team's playoff chances dashed with a 23-20 loss to the Lions on Dec. 19 at Raymond James Stadium.
In that game, Lions star receiver Calvin Johnson — nicknamed "Megatron" — racked up 10 catches for 152 yards in dominating fashion.
But when the teams meet Sunday in Tampa, Talib – who says his hamstring is now healthy — said he "can't wait" for the challenge of shadowing the Lions' 6-foot-5, 230-pound playmaker.
"He's one of the top guys in the league," Talib said. "Slash, digs, jump balls, boy can do it all."
The only question is, what will Talib do Sunday, considering he hasn't played in a game in eight months? Talib sat out all four preseason games, but said his hamstring is "98.5 percent."
Talib said he's been doing extra conditioning, but the only way to get back is by getting game reps, and he'll get plenty, as defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said he'll play "every snap."
"We're hoping he picks up where he left off last year," Lake said. "He's going to be the same guy. He's the ultimate competitor, and he'd never allow me to take him off the field anyway, so he's going to be out there every single play."
Said coach Raheem Morris: "He's a game-day guy, a show-up-and-play type of guy. He'll be ready to go."
Talib is arguably the Bucs' best defensive player, with six interceptions before an injury cut his 2010 season short.
Among Johnson's big plays in last year's game were clutch receptions on the final play of regulation and in overtime's lone possession, including a 12-yard, sideline-straddling, third-down grab in overtime.
Corner Ronde Barber minced few words afterward, saying Johnson "dominated us," even with an extra defensive back leaning his direction all day. Morris remembered the first time the Bucs faced Johnson, and on jump-balls, "it looked like (Michael) Jordan."
"He's going to make his plays," Lake said. "We've just got to limit those plays. Throughout the game, we know he's not going to be limited to zero catches. They're going to throw him the football."
On Monday, Johnson told blogs.detroitlions.com that the win in Tampa last year, one of four consecutive for Detroit to end the season, was "big for us" in the fact they got to spoil the Bucs season.
"We took pride in that — being able to knock those guys out," Johnson said. "I had a couple nice catches toward the end of that game. Overall, we had a good game at the receiver position. We went out there and took over that game and made a bunch of plays from the beginning to the end."
Morris said Talib was "upset" he missed that game. There was a danger Talib wouldn't be around for Sunday's showdown with Johnson either; the fourth-year corner was charged with aggravated assault with a deadly weapon stemming from a March incident in Texas.
But since Talib found out a couple of weeks ago he wouldn't be suspended this season by NFL commissioner Roger Goodell, his eyes have been on being ready for Sept. 11.
"Anytime there's a big name or big guy, per se, (Talib is) up for the challenge, each and every week" safety Sean Jones said.
That being said, Jones knows containing Johnson, as well as fellow receiver Nate Burleson — whom Morris said might be one of the best slot receivers in the league — is not just a one-man job.
"(Johnson) has a tight end body with receiver speed," Jones said. "He can post you up, and box you in that way. Or he can beat you deep. We're definitely going to keep our eye on him the whole game and try to keep him under wraps. We're going to have (Talib) on him for most of the game. We're excited about that."
While Talib will be back for the Bucs, Johnson will have his starting quarterback, Matt Stafford (after backup Drew Stanton played in last year's game) coming off a strong 4-0 preseason.
"It's a premium matchup," Morris said. "First time (Talib) and (Johnson) get to tango. I look forward to seeing it."
Joe Smith can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.