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Little Attention Paid To Corey Graham's Impact In Denver


The "Mile High Miracle" 70-yard touchdown pass is what everyone remembers from last year's divisional playoff thriller in Denver.

What's often forgotten, or at least overlooked, is that it only tied the game.

Cornerback Corey Graham is the one who made what could be called the game-winning play. Graham intercepted Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning in double overtime, setting up Justin Tucker's decisive field goal. It was his second interception of the game, and he returned the other for a touchdown.

It was Graham's coming out party, yet there weren't too many people taking notice.

Graham is a player hardly anybody talks about. He will head back to Denver still as an under-the-radar cornerback.

"Sometimes, you look at this guy, and he does everything so well, you almost go without noticing him," Head Coach John Harbaugh said. "To me, that's a great compliment, especially for a defensive back. He's just out there doing his job every day and doing it really well."

Graham was signed last offseason to primarily be a special teams player. He did that well. It was no coincidence that he was on the field for every one of Jacoby Jones' return touchdowns.

But Graham quickly showed he was more than just that.

"When he came in from Chicago, we were thinking we got a special teams corner," cornerback Lardarius Webb said. "As soon as he got here, he started picking balls off and making plays. We were just like, 'Ozzie [Newsome] got him one.'

"Ever since he got here, he's been a great corner. I guess it just took a while for you all to notice. He's just a straight playmaker."

Graham took over for Webb midway through last year, and recorded 60 tackles, eight pass deflections and two interceptions in the regular season.

In Denver in the playoffs, he intercepted a pass deflection and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. He made eight tackles and three pass deflections in the game, all before cutting in front of former Broncos receiver Brandon Stokley for a sliding interception.

"That meant a lot, obviously, because we won," Graham said, looking back. "To go out there and make a few plays and help your team win the game means a lot."

Manning didn't give too much credit to Graham. Baltimore reporters specifically asked Manning for his thoughts about Graham this week, and Manning passed on a chance to speak highly of the cornerback who picked him off twice.

"I think their entire defense is good," Manning said.

Graham isn't the biggest guy. He's 6-foot-0, 196 pounds. He isn't the fastest or the strongest either. He's a former fifth-round pick out of New Hampshire.

In the summer competition for starting cornerback between Graham and Jimmy Smith, Smith easily wins on paper. Smith has the prototypical mixture of size and speed, and is a former first-round pick. But by all appearances, Graham will be the starter in Denver.

Defensive Coordinator Dean Pees was asked about what makes Graham a good player.

"[He's] smart. I think the biggest thing any corner needs is to be smart," Pees said. "There are a lot of talented, talented defensive backs out there that can run like the wind, and they might even be big, but can't play very well."

Graham will get another strong test Thursday night, and will have to prove himself again.

He'll likely bump inside to play the slot when the Broncos go three-wide, which they'll often do considering they have perhaps the most dangerous trio of wide receivers in Demaryius Thomas, Eric Decker and Wes Welker. Graham will have his hands full with Welker.

Will the Broncos give Graham more respect this time around, or test him again? Graham said he doesn't know what to expect.

"We'll see; if they're throwing the ball at me every time, then obviously nothing has changed," Graham said, then burst into laughter. "But hey, if they throw the ball at you five times, you should at least make one of those plays."

Pees isn't too concerned about the matchup with Welker. Even though others may not know Graham, the Ravens defensive coordinator has faith.

"He matched up with Welker last year," Pees said. "It's not like this is his first parade. ... I feel Corey has had a very, very good camp."

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