ENGLEWOOD • Peyton Manning wasn’t the only free agent who had a spectacular Denver debut. So did the man who denied him a second Super Bowl trophy and is now trying to help him hoist another.
Tracy Porter earned AFC defensive player of the week honors Wednesday for breaking up five passes, collecting eight solo tackles and returning an interception for a touchdown that sealed the Broncos’ 31-19 win over Pittsburgh.
It was Porter’s NFL-leading third career game-sealing interception since 2009, including his 74-yard pick-six in the Super Bowl three years ago that sealed New Orleans’ 24-17 win over Indianapolis.
“I’ve spent a lot of years locking receivers up,” Porter said. “I just had to make the best of my opportunity.”
Porter’s five pass breakups marked the most by a Denver cornerback since Deltha O’Neal had six on Oct. 7, 2001, against Kansas City. And it was half the total he had last season, when Porter returned from microfracture surgery on his left knee to play in 14 games.
Porter nearly picked off Ben Roethlisberger twice before he stepped in front of Emmanuel Sanders and took the interception 43 yards for the touchdown with 1:58 left in the fourth quarter Sunday night.
“It always feels great when a defensive back gets his hands on the ball,” Porter said. “I didn’t securely catch it, but I made the play.”
“He could have had about three of them it seemed like,” nickel back Chris Harris said. “Tracy’s a guy who’s playing opposite of Champ Bailey. You know he’s going to get tested more.”
Bailey figures that in Porter, he might finally have a cornerback comrade who can funnel more passes HIS way, like the late Darrent Williams did in 2005-06, when Bailey intercepted 18 passes.
Watching Porter streaking down the sideline with the game-sealing interception was a terrific sight for Bailey, who only had passes thrown his way while the Broncos were lined up in zone coverages.
“It’s a great feeling, because you try so hard on one side to shut down your side,” Bailey said. “It’s good to have a guy over there that can hold his own.”
When Porter became a free agent, the Broncos signed him to a one-year, $4 million deal to replace three-year starter Andre Goodman.
“He was a good cover guy,” coach John Fox said. “He was available. We felt strong about trying to get him and fortunately it worked out.”
Now, it’s no longer a “pick on the other cornerback” approach when facing the Broncos as much as it’s a “pick your poison” proposition again.
“Both guys have been around and made a lot of plays,” safety Jim Leonhard said. “And I think for a lot of years, it was Champ and a couple young corners to where obviously they’re not going to test Champ. The defense where it is now, Tracy’s been around a long time. He’s made plays, he’s been to Super Bowls, he’s been in the playoffs, that experience, it means a lot to a corner.”