Broncos Bailey relishes increase in passes coming his way
AP Sports Writer
ENGLEWOOD, Colorado – The bully on the corner for so long, Champ Bailey is now the one getting picked on.
Maybe it’s his advancing age – 31 – or that he’s coming off a groin injury that cost him half of last season and ended his Pro Bowl streak at eight. Whatever the reason, the Denver Broncos cornerback has seen his workload increase this season as opposing quarterbacks go after him.
All Bailey can say is, well, thanks.
“That only gives me chances to make plays,” Bailey said with a smile Wednesday.
Bailey certainly made plenty of plays in a 17-10 win over Dallas last weekend that kept the Broncos undefeated. He intercepted a pass from Tony Romo at the Denver 6 and swatted down four passes, including two on back-to-back plays in the end zone in the waning seconds.
His performance earned him AFC defensive player of the week honors for the first time since 2003 when he was in Washington and seemingly in his prime.
Not that he’s reading too much into the award.
“It means I played well last week, that’s it,” said Bailey, whose Broncos (4-0) face New England (3-1) on Sunday. “It means I have got to go out and prove myself all over again.”
Bailey now faces his biggest test yet in Randy Moss.
Last year, Bailey and the Broncos had their season derailed at New England. The team was demolished in front of a national audience, picked apart by then offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ play calling in a 41-7 loss.
Bailey shut down Moss until injuring a groin that would keep him out for two months. On the sideline, he watched Moss reach the end zone twice.
After that game, the usually mild-mannered Bailey went off on his teammates, saying they lacked a “nasty attitude.”
“I hate to be a guy that sits on the sideline and talks about it, but I feel like I earned my stripes enough to really sit back and criticize people when I see something going wrong,” Bailey said. “I want to win and I can’t have people (giving half effort) on the field. I can’t let people get away with that.”
This season, the defense has the nastiness that Bailey has been craving. A once-maligned defense has morphed into a reliable unit, allowing a league-low 26 points through the first month of the season.
It all started with McDaniels, who overhauled the defense soon after coming on board from the Patriots. He brought in Mike Nolan to run the defense, then revamped the secondary. He provided Bailey help on the other side by signing cornerback Andre’ Goodman, while adding experience at safety with Brian Dawkins and Renaldo Hill.
Now, quarterbacks are coming right at Bailey.
That’s a decision Dawkins doesn’t quite understand.
“I guess people have different (levels of) courage, if you will, to challenge him,” Dawkins said. “If that’s the case, we welcome that. Champ welcomes that. His potential to make plays only goes up when you challenge him.”
Bailey can’t remember ever getting this much action. Not at the University of Georgia, not with the Redskins or the Broncos. He had a career-high 10 interceptions in 2006 and thought quarterbacks had learned their lesson.
Cincinnati quarterback Carson Palmer started the trend, lobbing a few passes Bailey’s way as he covered Chad Ochocinco. Romo challenged him right up until Bailey made the final game-saving deflection with a second left.
Bailey expects Patriots quarterback Tom Brady to keep the challenges coming Sunday with Moss, whom Bailey has always respected, even when Moss was floundering in Oakland.
“Did he have a quarterback?” Bailey retorted. “It’s like night and day with him when he has a quarterback. He does good things. People say he dogged it in Oakland, but I don’t think so. The thing was he didn’t have somebody to give him the ball.”
Brady can definitely get Moss the ball.
However, the three-time Super Bowl winner is wary of testing Bailey.
Brady tried to squeeze in a pass deep in Denver’s territory in a 2005 playoff game, only to have Bailey jump the route in the south end zone and return it 100 yards to set up a game-sealing score, handing Brady his first playoff loss.
So, how smart is it to challenge Bailey?
“I don’t think it’s smart at all,” Brady said. “I don’t think I’m going to come into the game saying, ‘Let’s see how many times we can throw at Champ.’ “