TAMPA — For a week, Aqib Talib wasn't just banned from One Buc Place. His name was never even mentioned in the defensive backs meeting room.
"We basically didn't talk about him," defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. "He wasn't going to be there, so it'd be mentally weak for us to even dwell on it."
But when Talib officially returned to work Wednesday from his one-game suspension for violating the NFL's player conduct policy, Lake had written a message on his grease board: Welcome back 25.
"We clapped it up for him in the team meeting," Lake said. "He did a great job of paying the penalty over the course of the last year. No question, he is a different person, and he's ready to go."
The best asset for a defensive back is a short memory, but in this case, Talib says he will never forget the agony of having to watch the Bucs' 17-14 win over the Browns on television at his home near Dallas.
While the suspension lasted just one week, the third-year player will feel the sting in his bank account by having to forfeit two game checks, a total of $177,187 in league fines stemming from his altercation with a cab driver in August 2009.
"It's behind me. I'm just happy to get it over with," Talib, 24, said. "It's the first time it ever happened to me. It will be the last time it ever happens to me. I'm just excited to be back on the field and it's finally over with."
Talib said he was impressed with the play of the defense, particularly his replacement in the lineup at cornerback, second-year pro E.J. Biggers, who had a clinching interception.
"I just was jumping off the couch, really excited to see him come out and have a great game," Talib said of Biggers.
"The best news is, after the game, we got a W. It was real hard. You never want to be at home watching your team, watching your team prepare. The thing is, it's over with, man. I'm just excited to be back."
Talib couldn't have picked a better week to be back, coach Raheem Morris said.
The Bucs will have their hands full Sunday at Carolina with running backs DeAngelo Williams and Jonathan Stewart. But the Panthers' most dynamic weapon might be four-time Pro Bowl receiver Steve Smith, whom Talib held to one catch for 4 yards last season.
"Steve can do everything," Talib said. "He'll catch slants … he catches digs across the middle, he catches deep balls, he catches bear passes. He does it all. He might get a reverse or something.
"He's the total package. So you don't just worry about one thing."
With Talib back, the Bucs will be strengthened by moving Biggers back to the nickel corner spot on passing downs. Biggers did an admirable job in his first pro start, as did nearly everyone in that defensive backs meeting room.
The Bucs proved they can win a game without Talib. But they'll be awfully glad they if they don't have to play another one without him this season.
"Like I told you, he was the first phone call I got," Morris said. "He was fired up. He knew his teammates had his back, his teammates all played for him. We don't have to say it, we don't have to tell the media and make a big deal about it. It is what it is. We dealt with our punishment, and now he's ready to come back and help this football team.
"And he couldn't come back on a better week."
Rick Stroud can be reached at [email protected]