DENVER — Marquice Cole, the 30-year-old cornerback whose relationship with the Patriots this season can be described as “on-again, off-again,” has found a postseason landing spot with the only team standing between his old squad and the Super Bowl.
The Broncos signed the five-year veteran Tuesday, just days before they host the Patriots in the AFC Championship.
The move sets off some of the same smoke alarms as the Colts’ signing last week of former Patriots wideout Deion Branch, who had been out of football since last January, even though Branch’s seven years in New England far outweigh the two that Cole spent there.
In 17 career games with the Patriots, Cole picked off two passes, recovered a fumble, and recorded 20 tackles. But since last March, Cole was released four times by the Patriots.
He played the first three regular-season games before being cut Sept. 27. Four days later, the Patriots re-signed him. Three days after that, he was back on the streets. Two days later, he was back in the locker room.
Then, finally, the day after Christmas, the Patriots cut ties with him for good.
And after losing cornerback Chris Harris, a key young piece in their secondary, to a season-ending ACL injury in last week’s divisional round win over the Chargers, the Broncos were in need of a defensive back.
Defensive end Derek Wolfe, who has been out since Nov. 29 after suffering seizure-like symptoms, was placed on injured reserve along with Harris.
Though the possibility of Wolfe playing Sunday had been slim, the Broncos were waiting with the hope that he would recover. Offensive tackle Vinston Painter was signed from the practice squad.
In three seasons with the Broncos, Harris had missed only one game, coming up with 171 tackles and seven interceptions.
The loss will be significant, said coach John Fox, but he expects his defense to adjust.
“There’s no doubt that he’s probably one of our better performers on defense throughout this season,” Fox said. “It’ll be the same. We’ve lost some pretty good performers throughout the season. This team has been resilient. We’ll take a ‘next man up’ approach and we’ll keep you posted on that as we go forward.”
Fox still hasn’t made public his plans for the secondary.
“We’re going to know long before you guys will know,” said Fox. “But, we have been with these guys for some time. We’ve had the same core of guys. So, we’ve been through the whole cast, really throughout the whole season. It is really how they perform in practice and what we see on the practice field in preparation for New England.”
Back to Bailey?
Even though Champ Bailey has been used mostly at nickel back in the five weeks since returning from a Lisfranc injury, Fox didn’t want to go so far as to say he was keeping the veteran defensive back on a “pitch count.”
“It’s not really quite that scientific,” Fox joked. “We’re not that smart.”
Teammates in the secondary said they would welcome Bailey to every-down duties with open arms.
“I don’t know how that is going to affect him — whether he is going to move outside or inside,” safety Mike Adams said. “I don’t know. I would love to see Champ back out there every play, if you’re asking me that. Yes, I would love to see that. But that is yet to be determined.”
Finish the job
The lesson the Broncos learned after watching the Patriots turn a 24-0 halftime deficit upside-down in a matter of minutes on the way to a 34-31 overtime win in Week 12 was to make sure the door was slammed completely shut, defensive tackle Terrance Knighton said. “We just have to finish,” Knighton said. “A team like that, that has been behind before and has plenty of comebacks and has had success playing from behind . . . we just have to learn to put teams away and finish.”