Perhaps, because this is the place where Aqib Talib first called home, Denver Broncos head coach Gary Kubiak had his star cornerback deliver the player speech at the team hotel Saturday night.
Among the messages Talib conveyed in his inimitable manner was to play with confidence.
"I feel like confidence drives this league,'' Talib said. "Basically told them there's no reason for us to not be a confident team.''
And then Talib backed up his words with action. Talib came through with two interceptions off Tampa Bay quarterback Jameis Winston to set up two touchdowns – the difference as the Broncos took a 17-7 lead into halftime. The Broncos finished off a 27-7 victory that included a one hour, 26 minute weather delay in the quarter, followed by 6 minutes and 52 minutes of football played in a pouring rain.
Talib started his career here in 2008 as the Bucs' first-round draft pick. He played here 4 1/2 seasons, registered 18 of his career 33 interceptions here, then was traded to New England.
"It was special, man,'' Talib said. "I got a warm welcome off the plane, into the hotel, on the field, got a warm welcome, man, and to be able to put on a show like that in front of the fans that I still have in Tampa, it was special.''
Talib also had a pick six two weeks ago against Indianapolis’ quarterback Andrew Luck that was a huge play in a 34-20 win.
On the first series of this game, Talib picked off Winston’s third-down pass at the Tampa Bay 36 and returned it to the 11.
On the Broncos’ first play, Broncos starting quarterback Trevor Siemian connected with Demaryius Thomas for an 11-yard touchdown. It was Broncos, 7-0.
Talib picked off Winston again early in the second quarter, this time returning it 15 yards to the Tampa Bay 27. He was upset with himself because it was Bucs' center Jow Hawley who stopped Talib from the 10th interception touchdown return of his career.
"I let a lineman tackling me, I'm embarrassed,'' Talib said. "He might have been the first lineman to tackle me. I just told (running back) Kapri Bibbs I would never let a lineman tackle me. ... It was crazy but I'm still excited I got two interceptions.''
After a false start, Siemian hit Thomas for 17 yards and then back-to-back pass interference penalties on Tampa Bay gave the Broncos’ back-to-back, first-and goals at the 1.
C.J. Anderson finally finished it off with a 1-yard run and the Broncos had a 14-7 lead with the two scoring “drives’’ going for only 11 and 27 yards.
Broncos defensive end Derek Wolfe had 2.5 of the 5.0 sacks against Winston, who completed just 17 of 35 passes for 179 yards and two interceptions for a putrid 40.1 passer rating. The other sacks registered by defensive tackle Sylvester Williams, outside linebacker Shaq Barret, and shared sack by Von Miller.
Wolfe now has 4.0 sacks in four games. Not a bad start to the four-year, $36.7 million contract extension he signed back in January.
"I have just another chip on my shoulder,'' Wolfe said. "Guys are getting way more than I am. It's just another chip. I always need something, right? When I seen the kind of contracts everybody else was getting, I was like, OK I'm going to show they're not worth that.''
His former teammate, Malik Jackson, got a xix-year, $85.5 million contract, or roughly $5 million more a year than Wolfe got. Jackson has 1.0 sack so far this year.
Right tackle Ty Sambrailo struggled in the first half but played better in the second half. In fairness to the former Colorado State star, Sambrailo not only missed nearly a year worth of games, he also missed a year worth of strength and conditioning, much less practice because of the injuries he had.
He suffered a ripped up left shoulder last year and a hyper-extended right elbow this year. On top of all that, he played left tackle last year, took all his walkthrough reps at right guard during the offseason and then was thrust into right tackle two weeks ago with the injury to Donald Stephenson.
The Broncos had little choice but to play Sambrailo before he was ready, but the team is hoping Stephenson can return this week.
Safety Shiloh Keo tested his injured right knee on the field prior to the game Sunday but it was determined he shouldn’t play. With Keo inactive, the Broncos dressed rookie safety Justin Simmons, who missed just one week with a broken left hand. …
Cornerback Kayvon Webster suffered a strained hamstring and did not return. ...
Running the ball was still a struggle for the Broncos, although they did a little better in the second half. C.J. Anderson had 49 yards rushing on 19 carries. His backup Devontae Booker had 30 yards on seven carries. Third stringer Kapri Bibbs had 14 yards on three carries.