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'Champ' the first name at cornerback

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Ty Law once said, ''They don't call him Champ for nothing."

He is Roland ''Champ" Bailey, just as sure as his younger but bigger brother is ''Boss" Bailey, a linebacker with the Detroit Lions.

Champ Bailey is a shut-down cornerback for Denver, maybe the best in the game. Seven Pro Bowl nominations, two consecutive All-Pro honors. When the Patriots played the Broncos Oct. 16, Bailey had just returned from missing two games -- the first time in his NFL career he had missed time. (His streak had been stopped at 99.) He played sparingly in that game, still battling a shoulder injury and a nagging hamstring pull from Week 3.

''I didn't even finish that game," he said. ''It was tough for me. We had a good lead when I came out of the game and we didn't want to push it.

''It was a good decision and judgment call on my part and the coaches'. We came out with a win, but I love finishing games. I really regret not finishing that game."

Despite his struggle with injuries this season, Bailey picked off eight passes, bringing two of them back to the house (25 and 65 yards).

The Patriots will be facing a healthy, hungry Bailey in the playoffs Saturday night. Whoever ventures to his side of the field -- David Givens, Deion Branch, Troy Brown -- could be in for a difficult night.

Bailey was a three-way star at Georgia, also playing on offense (receiver) and special teams. He once logged 119 plays in a 28-17 win over Auburn in 1997 (62 at corner, 49 at receiver, 8 on special teams).

In New England, Law used to bug Bill Parcells and Pete Carroll about playing offense. Bailey has done the same with his coaches in Washington and with Mike Shanahan since being traded to the Broncos in 2004 along with a second-round pick for Clinton Portis.

''Not really this year, because I've been banged up so much," said Bailey. ''I've had to devote all the energy I've had to get myself ready to play the corner position and get myself well."

Given his recovery, could Bailey be a secret weapon on offense?

''I'll tell you what," he said with a laugh. ''We'll see.

''I'd play every snap if I could. I'd play all the time."

Bailey never knows on a week-to-week basis how the opposing team is going to handle his side of the field.

''Some go after me, some don't," he said. ''You never know. But I'll tell you one thing, I'm ready every play. That big play might be coming, and I'd better be ready for it."

Broncos rookie Domonique Foxworth has played on the opposite corner for much of the season, and he's seen his share of action because of the respect teams have for Bailey. Yet even he is amazed how often teams choose to go at Bailey.

''I think he's the best, hands down," said Foxworth. ''I don't see any other corners in this league that are anywhere near as talented. He tackles like a safety, he covers, makes interceptions.

''He scored two touchdowns this year -- that's more than some receivers. That's why I'm amazed when people throw at him as much as they do. They throw at him enough for eight interceptions. But I've noticed that once he gets a pick, no more balls go that way."

What has Foxworth learned from Bailey?

''Everything that I've been implementing this season," Foxworth said. ''I try to pattern myself after him. Obviously, I'm not nearly as good yet, but I'm working at it.

''He's been a great mentor for me on and off the field. I ask him a lot of questions and copy as many of the techniques he does so well. Of course, a lot of the things he does are instinctive, so if I work on them hard enough, hopefully they'll become instinctive to me also."

Bailey won't call himself the best, or one of the best, in the game. He never wants to feel that he's peaked. He also wants to steer the talk this week toward New England as much as possible. He likes the feeling of lying in the weeds.

The Broncos aren't playing the ''disrespect card," as the Jaguars did last week. And with good reason. They won 13 games and are a tough team. Their win over the Patriots -- in which a 28-3 lead became a 28-20 final -- taught them a big lesson: finish games strong, which they did late in the year.

Bailey was surprised about and grateful for the All-Pro honor.

''You have a hundred corners in this league, so it's definitely a prestigious award," he said. ''I look forward to getting that every year if I can. When you fight through stuff like the injuries I've had this year, people tend to respect you more."

Bailey feels Saturday's game may come down to turnovers, and there's nobody better at producing them than he. But he also knows they'll be few and far between with Tom Brady running the Patriots offense.

''What makes it difficult is the quarterback is so accurate," said Bailey. ''When you have a quarterback who can get you the ball the second you come out of your cuts, that makes it difficult.

''I think you have to mix up your coverages against them. There's no one effective way. You have to keep them guessing, just like they're going to keep you guessing."

If anyone can foil Brady, Bailey can. That's why they call him Champ.

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