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And so the chess match begins.
The Denver Broncos lost starting cornerback Chris Harris for Sunday’s AFC Championship matchup when he was diagnosed with a torn ACL. He suffered the injury in the third quarter against the San Diego Chargers, and an MRI confirmed he tore the ACL in his left knee.
Broncos brass wasted no time in finding a replacement, which just so happened to be former Patriots cornerback Marquice Cole. Coincidence? I think not. As much as you hear that signing another team’s former player doesn’t provide much insight into your opponent’s hand signals and play calls, it’s amazing how many teams do exactly that (see: Branch, Deion).
Of course, the Broncos would much rather have Harris still starting at cornerback than a potential Patriots spy. Harris helped hold the Chargers scoreless through three quarters, and then had to watch helplessly as the Broncos defense relinquished 17 fourth quarter points after his departure. Broncos cornerbacks Quentin Jammer and Champ Bailey are the two most likely candidates to replace Harris in the starting lineup.
As good as the running game has been, Tom Brady must be doing his best Smithers impression thinking about facing that Broncos secondary minus a starter — a secondary he already torched in the second half of this season’s previous meeting, with Harris on the field.
Cole, meanwhile, will probably serve as nothing more than emergency depth for the Broncos, in addition to whatever traitorous tidbits he can pass on from his time with the Patriots. He played in 13 games for New England, but played mostly on special teams to see a grand total of 167 snaps (he had 15 tackles and one interception).
Something tells me the Patriots will gladly take that tradeoff. After all, you can always sacrifice a pawn.