ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — As promised, Danny Trevathan has snuffed the showboat in him after his humiliating gaffe in the NFL opener.
He morphed into a standout linebacker in his second season and led the Broncos in tackles after his inauspicious debut in Denver’s rout of the Ravens in September.
Trevathan blamed excitement over his first career start for his premature celebration of a sure pick-6 of Joe Flacco when he flipped the football aside just before crossing the goal line.
That decision left teammate Wesley Woodyard with an ankle injury and made Brandon Stokley the new Don Beebe. On the other hand, if Trevathan doesn’t pull a Leon Lett, maybe Peyton Manning takes the rest of the night off and doesn’t get a chance to make history with his seventh touchdown throw later on in Denver’s 49-27 win.
Trevathan’s miscalculation was reminiscent of Lett’s gaffe in the Super Bowl in 1993 when Dallas’ defensive lineman was returning a fumble for a score in the Cowboys’ 52-17 win over Buffalo. Beebe chased down a hotdogging Lett and knocked the ball loose just before he crossed the goal line.
This time, as Woodyard casually bent down in the end zone to pick up the souvenir for Trevathan, who was celebrating a few feet away, an alert Stokley dived for the football and knocked it out of the back of the end zone.
Instead of a touchdown, it was a touchback.
Instead of hugs and high-fives, Trevathan got harangues from teammates and defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, a former linebacker.
“I promised myself I would never put my team in a place like that again,” Trevathan said this week. “I’ll make up for it. I’ll do whatever I’ve got to do. I promised those who were laughing at me, I’m going to make them suffer. I’m going to be here and grind it out, I’m going to pick it off next time, do whatever I’ve got to do to go ahead and get that off my back.”
Redemption came one month later in Dallas when Trevathan deked Tony Romo into throwing an interception at the Dallas 24 in the waning moments of a shootout, and it came just four days after he was carted off the practice field with a knee injury that at first had him fearing his playing days were over.
Trevathan briefly thought about jumping up and trying to score. Remembering the Ravens game, he decided to just stay down, allowing Manning to come on and run out the clock until Matt Prater’s field goal won it 51-48 as time expired.
That was one of many big plays for Trevathan, a sixth-round pick from Kentucky in 2012 who led Denver this season with 124 tackles and has a dozen more in the playoffs, where he’s helped hold the Chargers to 65 yards rushing the Patriots to 64.
He’ll be a big part of Denver’s designs to throttle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch in the Super Bowl.
And it all goes back to his big blunder in the opener.
“Sometimes setbacks are setups for bigger things to come,” coach John Fox said. “I think in his case, it was a learning experience.”
Trevathan worked his way into the starting lineup this summer when the Broncos moved Wesley Woodyard to middle linebacker and inserted Nate Irving on the strongside with star Von Miller having to sit out the first six games on a drug suspension.
“Danny’s got things that you can’t coach. He’s got speed. He’s got instincts,” linebackers coach Richard Smith said. “So, this gave us the opportunity to get more speed on the field.”
A shoulder stinger would eventually render Woodyard, a fellow Kentucky alum, a backup.
“Even though he’s not on the field, he’s with me in my head all the time,” Trevathan said. “That’s how I’m going to carry him.”
There’s that maturity again, that growth that the Broncos believe will come in handy in the Super Bowl, where Trevathan can get the ultimate redemption.
“Life is a game. It’s ups and downs, highs and lows. But, you know, I like my lows and I like my highs because without my lows, I never know what my highs are,” Trevathan said. “It was a rough, roller-coaster year but we pulled it together. I’ve got a strong faith in God and I’ve got a strong faith within my team. We’re here now and we’ve just got to get this one more win.”