Brandon Stokley cringes a bit at miracle catch

Brandon Stokley cringes a bit at miracle catch

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) Cincinnati Bengals coach Marvin Lewis isn't the only one haunted by the ``Immaculate Deflection.''

So is Brandon Stokley, the wide receiver who caught the batted ball and raced 87 yards for the score with 11 seconds left, giving Denver an improbable 12-7 win at Cincinnati in the 2009 opener.

Lewis, whose Bengals (3-4) host the Broncos (4-3) Sunday, said, ``Brandon runs through my mind all the time.'' Stokley said he, too, has bad dreams about that play in which he cradled cornerback Leon Hall's deflection at midfield and outraced linebacker Dhani Jones into the end zone.

It was the longest winning play from scrimmage in the final minute of a game in NFL history.

When Jones started to pull up, Stokley had the presence of mind to tick an extra four seconds off the clock by veering right and running parallel to the goal line for several strides before stepping into the end zone.

Although Stokley was lauded as a heady veteran for the savvy move, he admitted this week that he'd do things differently today.

``I just kind of saw that nobody was behind me chasing me. I saw a guy kind of give up on it. I knew there wasn't a lot of time left, so I thought why not try to run some time off?'' Stokley said. ``And then the next day, I kind of started having nightmares about it: What if I'd have gotten caught? What if I had fumbled? What if somebody would have hit me? I think next time I'll probably just get in the end zone.''

The ``Immaculate Deflection,'' as it was immediately dubbed, sparked the Broncos to a 6-0 start that season.

``Well, we got lucky, plain and simple,'' Champ Bailey said of that outlandish touchdown, which came after the Bengals had gone up 7-6 on Cedric Benson's 1-yard TD run with 38 seconds left. ``Stokley, he's a crafty vet. He just made a play. He was in the right place at the right time.''

If his eyes had deceived him, however, or he flubbed the football somehow before scoring, Stokley would have been more like Leon Lett and not like Don Beebe, the protagonists in the famous Super Bowl play in which the Buffalo Bills wide receiver knocked away the ball from the Dallas Cowboys lineman as he prematurely celebrated a touchdown return two decades ago.

``I just thought it was kind of smart to waste some time,'' Stokley said. ``But crazy things happen.''

Stokley saved the ball and gloves, which he has in his home office in Castle Rock, Colo., along with a couple of photos of him and his teammates celebrating the implausible touchdown.

All winter, that might as well have been a shrine to Stokley's career, which he figured was over after a thigh injury led to his release from the New York Giants after two games and just one catch last season.

Peyton Manning changed all that this spring.

The four-time MVP was preparing for his comeback after missing all of last season with a nerve injury in his neck and he needed some targets to throw to as he worked his way back.

He dialed up Austin Collie, Dallas Clark and Stokley, whom he played with in Indy from 2003-06, and invited them to his workouts at Duke University, where he was throwing under the tutelage of his college offensive coordinator, Blue Devils coach David Cutcliffe.

Manning promised them Duke-North Carolina tickets, but only if they worked out all three days with him.

``Easy sell. I mean, Duke-Carolina is a bucket-list thing for a lot of them,'' Manning said. ``But that was the deal: It was all three days. It wasn't half a day here, or I can't go Friday, it was, you had to throw Thursday, Friday and Saturday for tickets to the Saturday night game.''

Stokley began the three-day workout with no idea how he'd hold up and ended it thinking he might just have a 14th NFL season left in him.

``I hadn't run in 3 1/2 months really. So, I didn't know how my quad was going to do, how I was going to feel,'' Stokley said. ``So, I definitely wasn't running full speed that first day because that was a big perk for me. I'm a big Duke basketball fan and so to be able to go to that game was something special.''

The last thing he wanted was to pull a hammy or tweak his damaged thigh and find himself on a flight home before ever getting inside Cameron Indoor Stadium. But after that first day, he felt fine and then he really turned it loose.

``I guess rest was better than rehab,'' said Stokley, who had abandoned his rehabilitation just before Christmas after seeing no progress.

Stokley said he felt so good after that weekend - Duke's 88-70 loss to North Carolina notwithstanding - that he began to contemplate his own comeback.

And yet, he had gnawing doubts: ``Was it just the competitor in me thinking I could still do it when I really can't?'' he wondered.

And who would want him anyway? ``You don't get a lot of people wanting a 36-year-old receiver that played in two games the year before,'' he reasoned.

After signing with the Broncos, however, Manning went to bat for his buddy.

``I talked to Denver - well, I showed them some film - I said, `You ought to consider bringing him in and working him out, at least,''' Manning recalled.

Stokley impressed the Broncos, too, and they signed him to a one-year deal.

The ``Slot Machine'' is paying off once again. Stokley has 21 catches for 235 yards and three touchdowns, and along with former Colts tight end Jacob Tamme, has helped bring along Manning's other targets in Denver.

``I'm certainly glad he's here,'' Manning said. ``He's been a big part of our team this year.''

They actually owe each other a debt of gratitude.

``I know if he wasn't here, I probably wouldn't have gotten the opportunity to be here,'' Stokley said. ``He's done a lot for my career in Indy and to give me the opportunity to play here.''

Another case of being in the right place at the right time, just like he was on that sunny day in Cincinnati four years ago.


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The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

The curious case of Alex Smith and the NFL Top 100 list

Every offseason the NFL Network polls a number of current players to determine the Top 100 stars in the league.

It's a fun discussion topic during an otherwise slow time in the football calendar, and while the rankings carry no official meaning, it would be silly to dismiss the process altogether. After all, these are players voting for their fellow players. 

Over the last few seasons, the Redskins have seen a various number of their players make the list. Trent Williams is a mainstay, Jordan Reed made an appearance, and while he was playing in Washington, QB Kirk Cousins made the list. 

For example, in 2017, Cousins ranked 70th on the NFL Top 100. That same season, while quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs, Smith came in at 81 on the list. 

Now Redskins QB, there is a bit of a mystery surrounding Smith.

The NFL has revealed numbers 100 to 11, and Smith hasn't made the list. Cousins, now a Viking, landed 94th, the first QB on the list.

Another 10 QBs have been named to the Top 100: Jimmy Garoppolo (90), Derek Carr (60), Philip Rivers (56), Case Keenum (51), Deshaun Watson (50), Jared Goff (38), Matt Stafford (31), Matt Ryan (29), Ben Roethlisberger (18) and Russell Wilson (11).

Smith had the best statistical season of his career in 2017, and he led the NFL in passer rating. He certainly belongs higher on the Top 100 than a number of the quarterbacks listed above, particularly young players without his track record of success like Keenum, Watson or Goff. 

But does Smith deserve a Top 10 ranking in the NFL?

For Smith to make the list, it will mean a Top 10 ranking. Consider too that Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Carson Wentz have not yet landed on the Top 100. All four of those players seem like locks for the Top 10, which will be revealed next Monday night on NFL Network. 

It might seem surprising for Smith to land in the Top 10 of the NFL Top 100, but it would make zero sense for him to be left off the list altogether. 


— Contract years: Redskins face 5 tough decisions 

— Dead Money: Trades, misses and mistakes hurt Redskins salary cap


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Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst


Ravens agree to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst

The Ravens have their entire 2018 draft class locked up.

The team agreed to terms with first-round pick Hayden Hurst, according to NFL Network's Ian Rapoport.

Hurst's rookie contract - like all first-round picks - is a four-year deal with a team option of a fifth year. According to the Collective Bargaining Agreement, the 25th overall pick is due $11.1 million. 

The 24-year old, who was a walk on at South Carolina at 21-years old after being drafted by the Pittsburgh Pirates in 2012, finished his three-year career with 100 receptions, 1,281 yards and three touchdowns.

Standing at 6-foot-3, Hurst will be a nice addition to the TE corps with Nick Boyle and third-round draft pick Mark Andrews. 

Fellow first-round pick Lamar Jackson signed his rookie contract on June 5th.

Training camp kicks off for the Ravens July 19th.