ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP)
– Even at age 32, Champ Bailey hasn’t lost a step.
The Denver Broncos’ perennial Pro Bowl cornerback is coming off quite a performance, holding Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, one of the hottest receivers in the game, without a catch last week.
Bailey’s shining play has been a beacon for a team that’s mired in its worst skid in four decades and just saw its coach get fired after a videotape violation and a series of personnel blunders.
Hardly burned or beaten, Bailey remains on par with the best in the coverage business, younger stars such as Darrelle Revis of the New York Jets, whose supremacy in space spawned the cornerback’s catchphrase “Revis Island.”
Bailey has his own island, suggested Denver defensive coordinator Don Martindale.
“Honolulu,” Martindale chortled. “Because he’s over there at the Pro Bowl all the time.”
Bailey’s string of shutdown performances on star receivers puts him in line for his 10th Pro Bowl this year, which would be a record for cornerbacks.
But while Bailey may soon write his name in the record books, his signature on a contract will have to wait. Bailey was mulling an extension from the Broncos in October when the team suddenly withdrew the proposal, leaving his future up in the air.
“I wouldn’t say I understood it, because I didn’t have an explanation of why,” Bailey said Thursday. “It’s just one of those things that happened. Just have to roll with it.”
His preference is to remain in the Mile High City, provided the team doesn’t embark on a rebuilding project next season after Josh McDaniels, who was fired Monday, traded away a lot of his talented teammates, including Brandon Marshall, Jay Cutler and Peyton Hillis.
“That will weigh a lot on my decision. I don’t want to be part of the rebuilding year,” Bailey said. “I think we have enough professionals in this locker room that whoever they bring in here (as coach), it has a chance not to be that. It starts with if I’m wanted here.”
The way he’s been playing, it’s hard to imagine why anybody wouldn’t want him.
Matched up against the NFL’s best each week, Bailey has stood his ground. He stymied Indy’s Reggie Wayne, bothered Baltimore’s Anquan Boldin and shut down Bowe. Next up is Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald on Sunday.
“He’s a more polished receiver, more experienced,” Bailey said. “My hands will be a little full this week.”
Fitzgerald felt the same way.
“Champ is still playing at the same level that he always has,” he said. “It’s always good to compete against somebody that you respect.”
Bailey has been brushing up on Cardinals rookie quarterback John Skelton, looking for any clues he can find to use against the novice who just may be starting Sunday.
Bailey has 48 career interceptions, the third-most since he broke into the league as a rookie with Washington in 1999, trailing only safeties Darren Sharper (61) and Ed Reed (50).
That despite teams preferring to try their luck on the other side of the field, especially this season where rookie Perrish Cox holds down the position as he fills in for Andre’ Goodman (quadriceps), who is expected to return this weekend.
Bailey has been working extensively with Cox, teaching the fifth-round pick out of Oklahoma State the finer points of being a shutdown corner. Cox is beginning to adopt the mannerisms of Bailey, a player he grew up idolizing.
“A few of the things he’s done over the past, I’ve tried to do the same thing,” Cox said. “Champ’s got it all. He hasn’t lost nothing in my opinion.”
That was evident last weekend as he bottled up Bowe, who came in with an astonishing 13 touchdown catches in his previous seven games. Bowe had just three passes thrown his way all afternoon.
“He not only shut down Bowe, he shut him out,” Martindale marveled. “That was one of the best performances I’ve ever seen, and really he’s been like that all year.”
Without the safety net of a long-term deal, either. One tweaked knee, one separated shoulder could’ve cost him dearly.
“I don’t worry about that,” Bailey said. “Just playing ball.”
Will that be in Denver next season?
“When I came here, I had one goal in mind: win a ring with the Broncos,” Bailey said. “I still have that goal. If I feel like I have a good shot at getting it, I want to be here.”
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)