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.