ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Three months ago, Aqib Talib was in a hospital room in Dallas with a gunshot wound to his right leg, the circumstances of the shooting as foggy as his future in football.
As the television in the corner showed images of his teammates laughing with the president in the Rose Garden, Talib, who had bought a custom-fitted $3,500 suit to wear to the White House, instead awaited his discharge while wondering if he’d ever walk correctly again.
While everyone else was asking how he’d been shot, Talib worried if his NFL career was over.
Answers to that first question have eluded both police detectives and league investigators ever since.
What is crystal clear is that Talib is not only back but he’s returned to form as one of the game’s great cornerbacks.
His 46-yard interception return for a touchdown against Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts two weeks ago was his ninth career pick-6. On Sunday, he sparked the unbeaten Broncos’ 27-7 win at Tampa Bay by picking off a pair of Jameis Winston passes.
Although his two interceptions led to Denver’s first two touchdowns, Talib has been kicking himself this week knowing he might have taken them back the final 11 and 27 yards himself .
“Definitely, I definitely could have scored on both of them, according to the iPad,” Talib said with a laugh. “I definitely could have scored on both of them, so I have to get better at that.”
Only three players are better at it than Talib. Rod Woodson owns the record with a dozen pick-6s, one more than Darren Sharper and Charles Woodson.
Nobody has more than Talib’s 33 interceptions since he entered the league in 2008.
“He’s playing special, he’s having a big year,” said coach Gary Kubiak, who had Talib address the team Saturday night on the eve of his first game in Tampa since he was traded from the Buccaneers to New England midway through the 2012 season.
“It was special, man,” Talib said of his return to the city where he began his career as a first-round draft pick out of Kansas nine years ago. “I got a warm welcome off the plane, into the hotel, on the field. Got a warm welcome, and to be able to put on show like that in front of the fans that I still have in Tampa, man, it was special.”
Talib missed the final month of OTAs and much of training camp while recovering from his wound. His absence, combined with Super Bowl MVP Von Miller’s protracted and sometimes nasty contract stalemate, were the marquee concerns in Denver’s drama-packed offseason that included a quarterback shuffle and two defensive defections.
With Miller’s league-leading 5½ sacks and Talib’s three interceptions, the Broncos (4-0) are one of three unbeaten teams heading into Sunday’s showdown against the Falcons (3-1), who are coming off a 48-33 win over Carolina in which they became the first team in history to sport a 500-yard passer (Matt Ryan) and a 300-yard receiver (Julio Jones) in the same game.
“It fires us up to go compete against the best,” Talib said. “Julio and Matt Ryan are the best right now in the league so it fires us up to go compete against them”
Denver’s defense is right up there, too, leading the Broncos on a path they envision ending the same way last season did.
And if they do get to hoist the Lombardi again, Talib already has a fancy suit stitched up by his tailor and zipped up in a bag in his closet, ready for him to greet the president in style.
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton
His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/arnie-stapleton