ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Eight months ago, a teary-eyed Rahim Moore stood in Denver’s hushed locker room and took the blame for the Broncos’ playoff pratfall against the Baltimore Ravens.
In many ways, he was taking one for the team – he was far from the only goat in that gut-wrenching double-overtime loss that jolted a franchise brimming with Super Bowl expectations.
The young safety’s mistake was certainly the most memorable, though. He went for the interception instead of the tackle and came up short as Jacoby Jones hauled in Joe Flacco’s high heave and trotted into the end zone for a 70-yard touchdown with 31 seconds left in regulation.
That stunning play served as a springboard to the Ravens’ championship, and left a scar in Denver that will fade only if the Broncos can soon hoist their own Lombardi Trophy.
The teams meet again Thursday night at Sports Authority Field in the “NFL Kickoff” that also marks the start of “Rahim’s Redemption” tour.
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, have stuck with the third-year pro who held tightly onto his job as the starter at free safety this summer in Denver’s retooled secondary.
Twenty-four hours after that loss, Moore flew to Florida and went right back to work, training and lifting. And watching all his plays from last season – yes, especially that one – in hopes of getting smarter, stronger, swifter, so that one day fans might at least find it in their hearts to forgive, if not forget.
Moore expects to hear cheers and catcalls alike this year. After all, he spent much of his offseason going from getting pats on the back to hearing whispers behind his back. Moore said he made mental note of all the remarks, good and bad, like fireplace logs for his competitive kiln.
While he understands it’s hard for some fans to let it go, Moore insists he has. That’s evident on the football field, where he’s flashed playmaking ability while balancing his desire to make up for his big blunder with discipline and patience.
“If anything happens in your life at any point, you’ve got a decision to make. You’re either going to move on and find a way to get better from it or you’re going to dwell on it and it’s going to make you worse,” said Broncos secondary coach Cory Undlin. “I haven’t seen it from him one snap or one second where he’s dwelled on that. If anything, he’s used it as motivation.”
Moore, widely considered the player who made the biggest strides in Denver last season, aims to replace his gaffes with greatness.
“I feel like I haven’t played my best football since college. It’s been OK, but I don’t want to be OK,” he said. “Good isn’t good enough. I want to be a great player.”
Champ Bailey said Moore may have taken the brunt of the criticism as the last line of defense on that fateful, frigid night in January. But there were plenty of players who should have stepped up like he did afterward and put the loss on their shoulders, too.
“I think every guy should own it and take responsibility for that loss. It’s not about one person,” Bailey said. “He wasn’t the guy that put us in that situation. So, we’ve all got to own that one.”
At the Super Bowl, Jones really didn’t mention Moore when reminiscing about that big play. He said that as he toed the Ravens’ 29-yard line on third-and-3 with 44 seconds left, he noticed cornerback Tony Carter playing off him and knew he’d be the hero because he wasn’t going to get jammed.
Sure enough, he raced free down the right sideline, allowing Flacco the precious seconds needed for the play to develop. After eluding the three-man rush, Flacco stepped up and unleashed a high-arcing pass as Moore cut underneath to try to snare it. He fell to the ground as Jones slowed down to cradle the 50-yard prayer before prancing untouched the final 20 yards into the end zone.
“All I care about is if he gets past it,” Bailey said of Moore. “As long as it doesn’t affect him going forward, I don’t have anything else to say about it. It’s history. And that’s what I think he’s doing, he’s moving on, he’s learning from it, and he’s had a great camp.”
Now, Bailey said, it’s time for Moore to have a great comeback.
NOTES: Bailey (foot) missed practice but hopes to play in the opener so long as he doesn’t feel he could have a setback that would sideline him for an extended time. He hasn’t played since getting hurt Aug. 17 at Seattle. … The Broncos selected captains Monday: Bailey and Wesley Woodyard on defense, Peyton Manning and Ryan Clady on offense, and special teamer David Bruton.
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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