TAMPA — Has there been a more inauspicious start to a career than Aqib Talib's?
On his second play as a pro, the Buccaneers cornerback misjudged a sharply thrown deep ball by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. Talib leaped, his elongated right arm inches short of batting down the ball. And when a defender makes a mistake against the hottest passer in the league, the result is predictable:
Sunday is the sequel to that season-opening game, and Talib can't wait.
"I'm definitely looking forward to playing these guys again, getting another shot at it," the rookie said of playing the Saints at Raymond James Stadium. "This whole defense feels like we let some things go."
What Talib let go was a touchdown that set the tone for a 24-20 loss, the Saints capping a 76-yard opening drive with that 39-yard touchdown strike to receiver David Patten.
Patten and Brees will see a more mature, confident Talib this time. His experience in the past 12 weeks has made him a different player from the one who sheepishly trotted onto the Superdome turf Sept. 7 in New Orleans.
"It was my first NFL game, in that dome. It was crazy," Talib said. "I was really nervous. This time I'll be home in front of my fans, and I'll be more comfortable.
"A lot of things have happened since then. It's like any other job. You do it for 12 weeks straight and you're a little better at it."
Talib has been a high-impact player despite playing part time as a nickel back. The job has him on the field for fewer than half the defensive snaps, yet the first-round draft pick is tied for the rookie lead with three interceptions.
No one associated with the Bucs holds that missed opportunity against the Saints against him.
"If you go back and look at that play, he just mistimed his jump," coach Jon Gruden said. "I don't know if he was a basket case. He's going to intercept that every time, I think."
After that game, Talib hurried off the team charter plane in Tampa and hurried home. He watched a recording of that play into the morning.
"I couldn't care less about that play," he said. "It happened 12 weeks ago. … It comes with the position."
That's an attitude instilled by defensive backs coach Raheem Morris.
"When we give up a play, we feel like we provide ourselves with an opportunity to make another one," Morris said. "We looked at it. We love it. That was (Talib's) first intro into the league. He's grown up a little bit since then.
"They'll see a new Aqib."