FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quarterback Tom Brady is usually the clear-cut leading man in the Patriots' success. It is rare that any part of the New England team other than the offense is credited for leading the way to victory.
But through the 4-0 start to the new season in New England -- the team's first such start since running the regular season table 16-0 in 2007 -- the defense has been just as big a factor in the success as the offense.
And Aqib Talib, less than a season into his career in Foxborough after being shipped from Tampa Bay to New England prior to last fall's trading deadline, just might be the most important Patriot. Certainly he has been the most critical New Englander in a jersey other than No. 12.
The Patriots are allowing just more than 14 points per game. Though that success initially came against rookie foes EJ Manuel and Geno Smith and now-benched Josh Freeman, the most recent victory came on the road against such potentially potent opponents Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the fledgling Falcons (1-3).
Ryan ended up throwing for 421 yards, including 108 to Jones and a career-high 149 to future Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez. But big chunks of that damage - including a 49 yarder to Jones - came in a last-ditch effort to pull out a comeback trailing 17 points with six minutes to play.
For much of the night, New England's defense, led by Talib, frustrated the Falcons. Talib matched up at times with Jones and got the better of the battle. Entering the game tied for the NFL lead with 27 catches, Jones had just two receptions for 6 yards in the first half against New England.
This is the type of production that top opposing receivers have against Talib this fall. After joining the Patriots late last season, the former first-round cornerback was tasked with taking out opponents like Andre Johnson and Anquan Boldin in New England's run to the AFC title game.
More recently he was put to use against Tampa Bay's Vincent Jackson, and now Jones.
And Talib is more than up to the task. He had a key interception of a Ryan throw intended for Jones to help set up the Patriots last field goal of the day in what was easily New England's most impressive win of the season. He closed the door in a hard fought win over the Jets in Week 2 with a pick of Smith. He not only is tied for tops in NFL with four picks through four weeks, he is the first Patriots player to record four interception in the first four games since Ty Law did so in an All-Pro season in 2008.
Talib also knocked Ryan's last-ditch, fourth-down throw into the end zone away to truly end Atlanta's hopes of tying the score. Talib took the pass defense on Roddy White, the Falcons other Pro Bowl receiver, in stride with his job as a key cog in the back end of the New England defense to open the new season. A defense that not only is playing a complementary role for one of the league's only undefeated squads, but actually winning games while Brady and Co. work out the kinks.
"Coach dialed it up," Talib explained. "I was on Roddy. Me and Roddy. He just ran a straight -- like an over route, a crossing route and Matt Ryan put it up. I just had to get to it, break it up."
The corner has certainly impressed the coach who presses the buttons.
"Aqib's played great for us all year," Bill Belichick said. "All the way back to the spring, training camp, he's stepped up when we needed him and he played well. He played the ball well. Played against good receivers, tackled well and just played well. He's done a good job for us."
He must continue to do just that moving forward. New England will take on the Bengals (2-2) in Cincinnati on Sunday. That is a likely matchup between Talib and Pro Bowler A.J. Green.
While much of the focus in New England has been Brady's work with a new-look offense, Talib brought a presence to the back of the team's defense that is paying huge dividends early in a season for a Patriots squad that is winning games in a new way.
Talib just might be the Patriots MVP through the first month and defense is making a comeback these days at Gillette Stadium. It has been a while since anyone not named Brady could lay claim to that title at any point in any season since 2001.