Game-changing plays: That’s why this Bailey is a Champ
DENVER ” Champ Bailey probably shouldn’t have been playing. And once he was playing, he almost certainly shouldn’t have tried to make that play.
But football, especially at the cornerback position, is a game of calculated risks. Bailey took one by suiting up for the Broncos on Sunday, then took another and changed the game by making the break on the Drew Brees pass that resulted in an interception and a touchdown.
“I knew we needed a spark,” Bailey said. “I jumped the route, which was not my area of the field to cover. But obviously, it was something I had to go do.”
The result was an easy catch and stroll into the end zone for a touchdown that cut Denver’s 11-point deficit to 14-10. Fans who had showered the Broncos with boos got excited again. It was, as many of the Broncos insisted after the game, the biggest play and the turning point in their 20-17 win over the San Diego Chargers.
On Monday, Bailey conceded that going for the interception was a gamble that could have backfired. All-Pro cornerbacks, however, don’t see the ball thrown their way too much.
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“They’ve got to throw some routes over there,” Bailey said. “There are some I can’t make plays on. But when I get the chance, I’m going to make it.”
Coach Mike Shanahan said that, given the defense that had been called, Bailey wasn’t taking such a big risk ” especially considering it was Bailey making the play.
“That’s why they pay that guy that type of money, because he’s got those instincts,” Shanahan said. “He knew we were in a zone blitz. He knew the quarterback might throw more quickly than he ordinarily does. He made the play. That’s what great players do.”
It was Bailey’s first touchdown since his rookie season. He also had an interception in the season opener last week, thus marking the first time since 2002 he’s had picks in back-to-back games.
That he was on the field at all was impressive in itself. Last week against Miami, he dislocated his left shoulder while making a tackle.
The injury was supposed to take one week, maybe two or three, to heal.
So, the sight of Bailey in full pads on the practice field last Thursday came as something of a shock. So did his pronouncement that, barring any setbacks, he would be on the field for the San Diego game.
“I was more impressed with him with way he practiced during the week,” Shanahan said. “He practiced hard. When you practice that hard, it usually shows up on game day.”
Bailey has now played and started in 98 of 98 games since he entered the league, chosen seventh overall in 1999 by the Washington Redskins.
When the Broncos traded Clinton Portis to acquire Bailey before last season, many around the league questioned the move, saying new pass-coverage rules had limited the impact a cornerback ” even a great one ” could have.
Bailey poked a huge hole in that theory Sunday.
“I really believe Champ won that game for us,” defensive end Trevor Pryce said. “That one play set the tone for the rest of the game. And that put them in the tank. And in the NFL, once you go in the tank, it’s hard to come out.”
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