Long ago we reached the point where there’s hesitancy prior to writing another post about Albert Haynesworth, mostly because it’s impossible to get through it without using the words “petulant” or “lazy.” It’s redundant and predictable.

But here we are again writing about the NFL’s most egregious waste of talent, and only because this time he bucked the trend and gave Tampa Bay–and any football fan who doesn’t enjoy watching a player rot in self-loathing–a shred of hope.

Yesterday we saw something from Haynesworth that we haven’t seen in three years…actual effort. While that alone is staggering when we reflect on his fondness for laying still and motionless, what’s especially surprising is that his effort came in a loss. It wasn’t just an ordinary loss either, as Haynesworth’s new team was blown out 37-9 at home against Houston.

Haynesworth was on the field for most of the game in his Bucs debut, and he had five tackles (four solo, one assist) and he blocked an extra point. Those who remember his play in Tennessee between 2007 and 2008 when the defensive tackle had 91 tackles and 14.5 sacks over a two-year stretch aren’t surprised by this, because a healthy Haynesworth can be a dominant Haynesworth.

Let’s contain our giddiness after just one game, because the 30-year-old will probably either get hurt or punch someone out in a traffic dispute soon. But his tackles Sunday were well ahead of his weekly pace in those two dominant, All-Pro years. In 2007 Haynesworth had 2.5 tackles per game, and in 2008 he set a pace of 2.9 per game.

Due to injuries and overall indifference, Haynesworth needed only one game in Tampa to eclipse his tackle total over his six games in New England this year (3). But that wasn’t even his most impressive feat. A player who was banished from Washington because of the enemies he made in the locker room and a highly divisive feud with Mike Shanahan actually tried to be a leader for a young team that’s lost four of its last five games after a 3-1 start, with a point differential of 136-46 in those loses.

For once he said something meaningful with both his actions and his words. After the game Haynesworth spoke to the St. Petersburg Times, and he sounded like a veteran who genuinely cares. It’s early in Hayneswoth’s Tampa tenure, and we’ll clearly need a few games to make a definitive judgment, although it makes sense that he felt more comfortable in his return to a 4/3 scheme for the first time since his days in Tennessee.

But this was still weird.

“I see the talent we have,” he said. “But what we do is, we’re a young team. Instead of letting a bad play go and wiping it out of your mind and going to play football, we let it pile on, we keep thinking about it and the result is another bad play. Our head coach came in and said blame it on him, but he didn’t play a snap of football. We have to take responsibility. We can’t let one bad play keep us down.”

What have you done with the real Albert?