ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- When the Denver Broncos didn't see what they wanted to see from cornerback Champ Bailey on Dec. 1 in Kansas City -- when he looked to be laboring, when he looked to be wrestling with his routinely unshakable confidence, when he just didn't look like, well, Champ Bailey -- the team did what may have never been done to Bailey before.
They pulled him from a game.
"At the time, it was the right thing," Bailey said. "I just didn't feel like I wanted to feel, I couldn't do the things I wanted to do the way I wanted to do them."
The Broncos held Bailey out of the next two games and then played him in the nickel package in the final two games of the regular season as well as this past Sunday's divisional-round win over the San Diego Chargers. But this week it's Tom Brady, the New England Patriots and a chance to go to the Super Bowl. Bailey has waited 15 seasons to go to the Super Bowl and the 12-time Pro Bowl selection has made no secret he's ready for more.
"I feel like I'm going to do whatever they ask me to do," Bailey said. "That is the way I've played it since I came back from the injury, I don't want to force anything. But I feel like I'm ready for whatever is thrown at me."
Overall Bailey has played in six games this season, including this past Sunday's game, after injuring his left foot against the Seattle Seahawks in the preseason. Most weeks he would patiently recite he was getting closer to a return, that he was working toward returning to the fray.
But with Chris Harris Jr. now on injured reserve -- he tore his ACL in the third quarter Sunday -- the Broncos find themselves without a key player in their secondary against one of the best quarterbacks in league history.
Asked Wednesday if he felt healthy enough, good enough to be back in every-down mode if the Broncos needed him to be, Bailey said, without hesitation, "absolutely."
"I'm ready for whatever they want me to do," Bailey said. "That is the way I prepare, I've never not prepared like that."
But it is a difficult choice, at least in some ways, for the Broncos. Of the four games in which Denver held opponents to fewer than 300 total yards this season, Bailey played primarily as the slot cornerback in three. This past Sunday, the Chargers had just one yard passing at halftime and had just 73 total yards by the end of the third quarter.
The Broncos could simply elect to leave Bailey in the slot and mix-and-match in Harris Jr.'s outside cornerback spot with Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie in the other outside spot. Or they could start Bailey in an outside spot in the base defense and then move him inside, into the slot, when the Broncos go to the nickel, much like they have done with Harris Jr. in the lineup.
Or they could even simply put Bailey on Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who works out of the slot slightly less than half of his offensive snaps. Bailey was not in the lineup in the Patriots' overtime win on Nov. 24.
"Champ didn't play, Harris is out, so there are definitely some differences in personnel," said Edelman on Wednesday. "... They're going to spin the dial, it's the AFC Championship."
Bailey has always coveted his first Super Bowl trip and has mentioned it with each passing Pro Bowl selection. This is the closest he's been since the 2005 season when the Broncos defeated Brady and the Patriots in Denver. During that divisional-round game, Bailey had a 99-yard interception return for an "almost touchdown." But of the following performance Bailey has repeatedly said it "still [ticks] me off, because we had it all right there and we came out and didn't play with the urgency to match that situation." The Broncos lost the AFC Championship Game at home to the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"That was eight years, it's not like it was two years ago," Bailey said. "It's definitely behind me. ... But I'm definitely glad I'm still here."
Still here, ready, and waiting, he says, for more.