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Champ Bailey ready to return, not retire

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Champ Bailey isn't going to pull a Ray Lewis and inspire his team down the stretch and into the playoffs by declaring this is his last hurrah.

Asked if retirement was on his mind after enduring the most trying season of his stellar career, one in which he's missed 11 games with a nagging foot injury, the Denver Broncos' 35-year-old cornerback quickly chortled.

''Oh no,'' he said. ''I'm thinking about winning on Sunday.''

With rookie Kayvon Webster out following surgery on his right thumb this week, Bailey is expected to play in Denver's nickel and dime packages when the Broncos (11-3) visit the Houston Texans (2-12).

It will be just his fourth game of the season.

Bailey first sprained his left foot in a preseason game at Seattle and he aggravated it Oct. 20 at Indianapolis in his second game back. He played the first half at Kansas City on Dec. 1 but clearly wasn't himself, and coach John Fox later acknowledged the 12-time Pro Bowler had been rushed back too soon.

Bailey has much more confidence in both his foot and his game now.

''I do feel like I do still have my speed and quickness - I have to in order to be able to play out there,'' Bailey said. ''I feel good about what I can do. I think now it's just being smart about how I go about doing it and making sure I don't have any setbacks and I don't wear myself down or anything like that. The good thing is I'm fresh, I'm ready to go. I've had some time off.''

Bailey has spent much of this season imparting his wisdom to his fellow defensive backs during the week and on the sideline come game day, wanting desperately to help shore up an injury-riddled defense that's ranked 28th against the pass and contribute to a team that can clinch the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs for the second straight season.

''Regardless of how we're playing it's hard to watch,'' he said. ''But I do what I can to help these guys get prepared every week, that's what I've been doing. I still do the same thing this week, except I'll be out there. I'm looking forward to getting out there and helping them while I'm on the field.''

Bailey is expected to be worked into the lineup against the Texans when the Broncos use five or six defensive backs, which is how they used him against the Chiefs.

Bailey was asked this week about Washington Redskins captain London Fletcher, the 38-year-old linebacker with 100 percent attendance who says there's a 99 percent chance he's retiring at the end of the season after never missing a game in 16 seasons.

''I've seen my peers drop off a lot in the last five years,'' Bailey said. ''He's older than me, but he hasn't missed a game. I don't know how he did that, but the game is going to miss one of the great ones. He definitely should be considered as one of the greatest to ever do what he did.''

Bailey said his foot injury hasn't caused him to think about hanging up his own cleats after 15 seasons, none of which have ended with a trip to the Super Bowl.

''Not really. Not more than normal. I think we all have to think long term, especially financially. Right now I'm just concentrating on getting my foot right and getting back on the field,'' Bailey said. ''That's really where my head has been.''

All Bailey can do now is look on the bright side: maybe all this time off will prove a boon come playoff time.

''My fingers aren't banged up like they normally are this time of year. My shoulders don't feel as bad,'' he said. ''Those are the only things that have gotten a breather. My legs are still my legs. I'm 35, they feel as good as they're going to feel right now.''


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The Associated Press
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