FOXBORO -- Aqib Talib pitched a perfect game on Sunday night. Of the seven balls thrown his way by Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan, none were completed. He had one interception -- he's now tied for the league lead with four -- and he broke up a play in the end zone that sealed the Patriots 30-23 victory. Considering he was up against receivers Julio Jones and Roddy White, it was a career night.
But Talib didn't see it that way.
“We can definitely get better. Y’all look at all the positive stuff," Talib told a group of media members standing around his locker on Thursday. "We watch the tapes, we kind of take the negative and see how we can get better. We applaud the positive, but we really look at the negative and see how we can get better.”
Talib and the Patriots secondary face another volatile challenge this weekend against Bengals receiver AJ Green. At 6-foot-4 and with great leaping ability, he may be every bit as athletic and physically-imposing as Jones was.
"Speed, man. Big catch radius," said Talib. "He can get down field and get that ball."
Green's numbers through four weeks bely his skill set, though. He is tied for the league lead in targets (51), yet his 300 yards receiving is 20th in the league. Still, his innate ability makes him one of the better big-play threats in the league, and he has averaged one play per game of 20 yards or more over the last two seasons.
Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton is on the cusp of being among the bottom half of the league's signal-callers in various statistical categories through four games this season. He has a touchdown-to-interception ratio of 5-to-4. He averages 6.78 yards per attempt, which is 19th in the league. His 1,003 yards are 20th in the league, and his 63.5 completion percentage is 14th. His total QBR is 16th in the league (52.9).
Last week, against one of the best defenses in the league, the Bengals fell to Cleveland, 17-6.
What the Patriots will face on Sunday doesn't appear to be as daunting a challenge as what they saw in Week 4, but they'll be ready for Cincinnati's myriad weapons, which aren't limited to Green's two hands. Bengals offensive coordinator Jay Gruden employs two tight ends -- Jermaine Gresham and rookie Tyler Eifert -- in order to stress the middle of the field, which is something the Patriots have seen before.
"In practice," said Patriots safety Devin McCourty. "We're used to that. [We're] familiar with seeing good tight ends that do a good job in the pass game so we're just going to have to play to it and play well . . . That'll be a big responsibility especially at the safety position and linebacker."
The Patriots struggled to handle Atlanta's tight end Tony Gonzalez last week (12 catches, 149 yards, two touchdowns), which one might assume is part of "the negative" Talib, McCourty and their teammates are looking into improving for this week.
Both Talib and McCourty admitted that although the Patriots defense has played well enough to go 4-0 through the first quarter of the season, it is still a work in progress. In the secondary, especially, they're working on becoming more comfortable with each other with each passing week. While they've looked solid of late, there's still work to do.
Especially against top wideouts, where bracket coverages are used frequently, and corners and safeties have to be on the same page, continuing to gain each other's trust is key.
"It takes a while," Talib said. "It’s a lot of communication. It’s a lot of, ‘Hey, Devin, if you do this, I’m gonna kinda play like this.’ We kind of have to get on the same page. That offseason, that full OTAs, it definitely helped us out a lot."
If and when Talib does get beat, McCourty has proven to be one of the best in the league as the last line of defense. According to Pro Football Focus, he's one of just three safeties to not miss a tackle all season.
Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard haven't been as consistent, but they have been effective in their roles. In the slot, Arrington plays with a good nose for the ball, while Dennard welcomes the challenge of defending bigger receivers. Neither player is huge -- Arrington is listed at 5-foot-10, 190 pounds and Dennard is listed at 5-10, 200 -- but both play with physicality and help set a tone in the Patriots secondary.
"Yeah, we call those two guys the two midgets," McCourty said. "That's how they play. They play with a chip on their shoulders and they're as tough as they come. Zo will go out there and matchup with anybody no matter the size and you gotta love that in a guy. He's a true competitor."
As is the guy who's normally on the other side of the field, Talib. As any competitor might be tempted, he could be reveling in the glow of last week's personal shutout, but he long ago moved on to the next challenge.
"Julio Jones was done at about 12 o'clock on Sunday," Talib said. "Me personally, to be honest, I go home, I watch the tape, be up all night and before I go to sleep, next thing I watch is Cincinnati. I been off Atlanta. I been on Cincinnati since early Monday morning."