Five great moments from Champ Bailey's Broncos career

Champ Bailey is more than just a dominant cornerback who remains the NFL's all-time leader in Pro Bowl selections for his position.

At his apex, he was something more. He was the rare cornerback that could not be schemed out of the game, no matter how opponents tried to avoid him at all costs.

"Everyone tries to never allow him to have an impact on the game," John Lynch said in 2006. "Then he finds a way each and every day to have an impact on the game.

"I played two seasons [in Tampa Bay] with defensive MVPs with Warren Sapp and Derrick Brooks. No disrespect at all to them, because they're two of the best football players I've ever been around, but their seasons don't hold a candle to what he's done."

And few cornerbacks can boast careers that hold a candle, either.

Here are five of Bailey's signature games:

September 18, 2005 - Broncos vs. Chargers, Week 2

The 2005 Broncos would win 13 regular-season games, a total matched in the 21st century by the team's 2012 and 2013 editions, but not surpassed. But that campaign might not have happened if Bailey had not stepped in front of Drew Brees' first pass of the second half to pull the Broncos out of a game-and-a-half season-opening funk.

Prior to Bailey's theft, the Broncos were 0-1, trailed the Chargers 14-3 and had been outscored 48-13 in the first six quarters of the season. They looked less like a Super Bowl contender and more like a contender for the top pick in the 2016 NFL Draft.

Then Bailey leapt in front of Keenan McCardell, returned the pass 25 yards for a touchdown and the outlook of the season changed. San Diego mustered only a field goal in the second half as the Broncos won, 20-17.

Denver lost just twice the rest of the regular season by a combined five points. Bailey would begin the best stretch of his career, as he intercepted 18 passes over the 2005 and 2006 seasons.

January 14, 2006 - Patriots at Broncos, AFC Divisional Playoff

New England carried a 10-game postseason winning streak into Denver and left with its bid for three consecutive world titles in ruins, thanks in large part to Bailey, whose 100-yard interception return effectively resulted in a 14-point third-quarter swing that powered the Broncos to their first playoff win in nearly seven years.

After Nick Ferguson pressured Tom Brady, the quarterback fired a pass to Troy Brown while moving to his right. But Bailey read the pressure and Brady's intent perfectly, grabbing the pass and beginning a gallop that ended when Benjamin Watson decked Bailey just as he was about to cross the goal line.

Questions linger in New England as to whether Watson's hit resulted in Bailey losing the football out of the end zone or merely out of bounds before crossing the goal line. But New England's instant-replay challenge failed, and Mike Anderson turned Bailey's long return into a 1-yard touchdown run one play later, effectively turning a potential 13-10 New England lead into a 17-6 Broncos edge that proved decisive.

December 17, 2006 - Broncos at Cardinals, Week 15

Bailey had a habit of making rookie quarterbacks pay for throwing in his direction. In this 37-20 Broncos win that kept them in the playoff race, the victim was 2006 first-round pick Matt Leinart, who looked for Anquan Boldin in the first and fourth quarters and found Bailey instead.

The picks started a run of four interceptions over the final three games of the year, pushing his season-long total to a career-high 10. That made him the 44th player since the founding of the American Football League to post double-digit interceptions in a single season. Just one player has hit that mark since, as interceptions dried up as quarterbacks and offenses began emphasizing passing games built on quickness and short-range accuracy.

November 11, 2011 - Broncos at Raiders, Week 9

Eight months earlier, Bailey signed a contract extension with the Broncos, tying his hopes of achieving his team-related goals to a club that had gone four years without a winning record and five years without a playoff appearances. When the Broncos flew to the San Francisco Bay Area at midseason of the 2011 campaign, success still seemed far away. They carried a 2-5 record into the game against the division-leading Raiders and had lost 45-10 at home to Detroit a week earlier.

Bailey started his big day by forcing a Jacoby Ford fumble on Oakland's second possession. The Raiders recovered and scored five plays on a Sebastian Janikowski field goal, but his presence was announced.

One quarter later, Palmer fired for Denarius Moore deep down the right sideline, but Bailey responded with his first interception of the season, snaring the pass at Denver's 15-yard line and preventing Oakland from extending its 10-7 lead. Bailey's work kept the Broncos in the game until their running game could take control with a dominant second half that featured nine runs of at least 12 yards.

Finally, with 1:04 remaining in the game, Bailey delivered the final haymaker, picking off Palmer again at Denver's 9-yard line, sealing the 38-24 win.

Much of what happened over the next six weeks was credited to Tim Tebow and his unorthodox equation for success. But Bailey and an emerging defense featuring then-rookie Von Miller played a more significant role, as they held opponents to 13 or fewer points four times, allowing the Broncos to win despite failing to surpass 17 points in each of those four games.

January 19, 2014 - Broncos vs. Patriots, AFC Championship

In what turned out to be his last home game as a Bronco, Bailey delivered his most courageous effort.

With every step, his foot throbbed from the pain of a Lisfranc injury that had affected him since the preseason. But with Chris Harris Jr. watching on crutches after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament seven days earlier, Bailey would not miss this game. Not when his team needed him more now than ever. Not when the Super Bowl, the one game that had eluded him, sat just 60 minutes away.

He made sure the Broncos got there with a determined performance that saw him allow just one catch for four yards. He helped stymie New England's offense, providing Peyton Manning and the offense enough time to build a three-score lead in the third quarter en route to a 26-16 win that sent the Broncos to their first Super Bowl in 15 years and Bailey to his first Super Bowl, period.

Super Bowl XLVIII was a day he and everyone associated with the Broncos would rather forget, but the sweetness of the game that got them there will linger for as long as people recall Bailey's accomplishments.

"Regardless of what happened after that, that moment was special for me and I will never forget it," Bailey said when he retired. "The biggest game you can play on your own field. I’ll never forget it."

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