DENVER –Cornerback Tracy Porter knew when he signed with Denver this offseason that playing opposite 11-time Pro Bowler Champ Bailey would regularly put him in the crosshairs of opposing quarterbacks.
Porter arrived in Denver with 39 career starts, seven interceptions and 44 passes defensed in his first four seasons in the NFL, all with the New Orleans Saints. But lining up opposite a player like Bailey makes him a target in the Broncos' defense, a role he embraces.
"Once my opportunity arises, I'm going to do my best to take advantage of it," Porter said. "I know teams are going to come at me because Champ is on the other side. I'm fine with that. If they want to do that, they can continue to do that. The only thing I can do is continue to play my technique, continue to study these guys as much as I can and know that in the back of my mind, these quarterbacks are going to come at me and I just have to make plays when my time arises."
In his first game as a Bronco, Porter got what he expected, as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger targeted No. 22 repeatedly. Porter was more than ready, rising to the challenge time and again. His five pass breakups tied for second-most in franchise history and he finished the game second on the team with eight tackles, including one in the backfield.
"Any time a player can get himself in a rhythm, can get something going, get a rhythm going, whether it's breaking up passes, making tackles, being in the right place at the right time, that's going to continue to boost his confidence and he's going to play well as the game goes on," Porter said.
With the game on the line late in the fourth quarter, Porter showed that Bailey is not the only dangerous Broncos corner. On the last play before the two-minute warning, Porter stepped in front of a pass intended for Pittsburgh's Emmanuel Sanders and raced 43 yards into the end zone for a pivotal pick-six that gave his team a 31-19 lead in the closing minutes. While Porter's jump on the ball clearly caught Roethlisberger off guard, it didn't shock any of his teammates.
"It wasn't a surprise to me," linebacker Von Miller said. "I've seen Tracy do it time in and time out in practice."
In a game filled with big plays that swung the momentum back and forth for much of the evening, it was Porter's touchdown, which came with his team nursing a six-point lead, that proved to be the difference maker.
"When you have a hard-fought battle like that, when something happens that changes the game and kind of finishes it and puts a dagger in them it's like a ton of weight off your shoulders," defensive end Derek Wolfe said. "It's like, 'OK, it's over now, we won.'"
Linebacker Wesley Woodyard said Porter had told his teammates that he expected a big play from himself.
"Tracy is a man that steps up and he owns up to his word," Woodyard said. "Before that series, he was on the sideline and was like, 'Defense, I owe you guys a play, I'm going to come back and make something.' Man, he came out there with that pick-six and everybody was so excited to see him score."