ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – The Denver Broncos have moved on, even if their fans haven’t.
That includes Rahim Moore, the safety whose big blunder led to Denver’s heart-wrenching loss in the playoffs four months ago.
The Broncos gather Monday for their first full practice since that fateful, frigid night in Denver when Moore allowed Jacoby Jones’ 70-yard touchdown catch from Joe Flacco in the final minute of regulation in the divisional game the Baltimore Ravens won in double overtime on their way to winning the Super Bowl.
Although there was plenty of blame to go around, Moore took the brunt of public criticism along with coach John Fox for his decision to have Peyton Manning take a knee afterward and take his chances in overtime.
Many fans wondered if Moore could ever play in Denver again after his gaffe, akin to Bill Buckner’s ball-through-the-legs moment in the 1986 World Series between the Boston Red Sox and the New York Mets.
The Broncos, however, are sticking with the third-year pro who remains the starter at free safety.
“I think he’s over it; I think we’re all over it, you know,” Denver defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio told The Associated Press. “I think we all look back and see things that we could have done better. We also look back with a great deal of pride in what we accomplished. We played some very good defense and he was central to that. So, we want to feel good about what went well. We want to feel the sting of what went bad. And we want to get ready to be better this year.”
The Broncos’ stars all stumbled in that 38-35 double-overtime loss to the Ravens: Manning had three turnovers, including an interception that led to the winning field goal; Champ Bailey got burned repeatedly; Ryan Clady was playing with a torn rotator cuff that would require surgery and wasn’t anything close to his usual dominant self as Manning’s blindside protector; and Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil combined for just one sack.
All those poor performances were overshadowed, however, by the many mystifying mistakes that Moore, their second-year free safety, made on Jones’ 70-yard touchdown catch from Flacco with 31 seconds left in the fourth quarter.
Moore lined up too shallow and allowed Jones to blow past him after leaving cornerback Tony Carter, who failed to jam at the line of scrimmage, in his wake. Then, instead of going for the tackle, Moore tried for the interception on Flacco’s 50-yard high-arcing heave but mistimed his jump and fell down, which prevented Carter from catching Moore as he pranced his way into the end zone.
Moore took the blame after the game and promised to make good, saying, “I’m going to keep my head high and next time the opportunity comes, I’m just going to make it for my team. I’ll just make the play.”
Moore is sure to face heightened scrutiny from fans this year and how he handles the pressure will go a long way in determining if he recovers from the big blunder to have a good year in 2013.
“I feel like that’s the way with the rest of us, he’s no different. It may be more publicized, there may be more people interested in it,” Del Rio said. “In terms of us internally here, we all feel like there’s things we can do better and we’re all looking to grow. I put him in the same category. I think he had a really solid year last year after a disappointing first year and he should be able to build on that and be better this year.”
Providing he can get over it, of course.
“Rahim’s focus is on getting better from a year ago,” Fox said. “And there wasn’t one play. It was a whole season. He made great, great progress a year ago from his rookie year and we anticipate him to do that again. He’s a very talented young man.”
Moore hasn’t addressed the media en masse yet. That should come Monday when reporters get the chance to view the first day of the Broncos’ OTAs in its entirety. The team has denied requests for 1-on-1 interviews except for one he gave The Denver Post recently in which Moore said he went right back to work in a matter of days after his massive mistake.
“Yeah, sometimes hard work is the best tonic when you feel the sting of something,” Del Rio said.
Moore has the support of everybody at team headquarters, from Bailey to executive vice president John Elway, who was asked during a recent conference call with season-ticket holders why he didn’t address safety in the offseason.
“Obviously, what’s stuck in peoples’ minds about Rahim” was the playoff foul-up, “but he made tremendous strides from Year 1 to Year 2,” Elway said. “And I think hopefully he makes those same strides. He really had a good year last year and we want to watch him to continue to grow. Safety-wise, we feel pretty good.”
Bailey said Moore’s mental state has been right ever since players first gathered for offseason work this spring.
“Let’s go try again, that’s pretty much his mentality,” Bailey said. “I don’t think it affected him as much as people think. He got so much better last year. I can’t believe he’s not going to improve this year. People want to talk about one play. But you can’t decide about someone on one play.”
Miller said nobody in the locker room holds Moore any more accountable for the playoff loss than they do themselves.
“Rahim made a few key tackles that day. He was all over the place. It was just a football folly,” Miller said. “I don’t blame Rahim. I blame me and Elvis: 70 yards to go, we know they’re going to pass the ball. That’s why they bring me and Elvis to close the game out and neither of us got to the quarterback. I took it hard.”
Dumervil signed with the Ravens in an ironic offseason twist, and he’ll make a return with his new teammates when the Super Bowl champs open the season at Denver on Sept. 5.
“This is a new season. We’ve moved on. The whole league has moved one,” Fox said. “Everybody is 0-0 right now. So, what you did last year doesn’t mean anything, good or bad. It’s what you do this year.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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