Aqib Talib's season cannot be judged solely on Sunday's performance.
Josh Gordon, after being held to zero catches for the game's first 25 minutes, finished with 7 receptions on 10 targets for 151 yards and a touchdown.
And what a touchdown. It was first-and-10 on the Cleveland 20-yard line. Coming out of their base 3-4 defense, the Patriots sent their linebackers on a six-man blitz, leaving Talib one-on-one with Gordon. Talib was beaten on the 9-yard slant route, if only by a step or two, and didn't have the speed to catch up. Gordon ran 71 yards for the score.
The game was probably Talib's worst in an otherwise excellent season. The corner has been tasked with New England's toughest covers this year -- Stevie Johnson, Vincent Jackson, Julio Jones, Mike Williams, Roddy White, A.J. Green, Andre Johnson, and Jimmy Graham -- and largely met with success.
Patriots defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, a coach who rarely doles out praise for individual players, heaped compliments on Talib Tuesday afternoon.
"Talib is a highly, highly competitive person and competitive guy," he said. "He wants to go out and put pressure on himself to perform and compete at the highest level against the highest talent and the highest opponent. You’ve got to really admire that and love that from the standpoint of a coach, but he does a great job of understanding this is a team game and he is certainly going to do whatever it is we ask him to do within the game plan."
The cornerback's numbers have swelled in recent weeks. After facing Carolina's Steve Smith, Denver's Demaryius Thomas, and Gordon, he's now surrendered 522 yards, three touchdowns, and has been hit with three holding penalties, according to ProFootballFocus.com.
But his overall stats are still solid. Talib also allowed just 180 total yards to receivers after the catch. He is targeted only once every 6.4 coverage snaps and allows just 1.41 yards per snap in coverage. He surrenders a completion once every 11.5 snaps in coverage.
"He is very flexible, very adjustable like all of our guys are," Patricia noted. "We really try to preach that to everybody out there to be able to handle multiple positions and multiple roles. He is certainly someone that has been able to do that. You may see him line up in a couple different positions or responsibilities. He understands the concept of what we are trying to get done defensively and will put that first and foremost before anything else.
"But, as far as a competitor, he is a tremendous competitor and someone that you really like the aspect that he will want to come in and go against the toughest opponent he can."