Champ Bailey is torn between gratitude and regret as he watches the Denver Broncos steamrolling opponents without him.
The perennial Pro Bowl cornerback missed all of September after injuring his left foot in the second week of the preseason.
As the first snow of the season blasted the Denver area on Friday, Bailey still wasn't able to do everything at practice and was listed as questionable for the game at Dallas (2-2) this weekend.
Coach John Fox stressed the Broncos (4-0) aren't going to take any chances with Bailey at less than 100 percent.
Every week, Bailey has hoped he would play, but three hours before kickoff he tests his sore foot and decides the pain is too much to bear, the rust too heavy to keep up with fleet-footed receivers and the potential for re-injury too great a risk.
So, he retreats to the sideline a sullen spectator once again.
"I can't even put it into words how frustrating it is. It's frustrating missing practice, So games, it's only 10 times more frustrating," said Bailey, mired in the second-longest absence of his 15-year career.
Bailey wants dearly to be a part of what's shaping up as a special season in Denver, but he takes some solace in knowing Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie and Chris Harris are playing so well in his absence and the Broncos are blowing out teams by an average of more than three touchdowns.
"I'll tell you what, winning helps with everything. It definitely helps me be as patient as I need to be," Bailey said.
With Bailey out, the Broncos have used Rodgers-Cromartie as their No. 1 cornerback, matching him up on elite receivers no matter where they line up, including Jacoby Jones and DeSean Jackson. They figure to do the same against Dez Bryant on Sunday.
"He's playing great," Bailey said. "I can't remember him having a season like this. I didn't pay very close attention to him, but I was aware of what he was doing when he was in Arizona and Philly. He's playing like a really elite corner right now."
The stellar play in the secondary keeps the Broncos from being tempted to rush Bailey back onto the field, too.
"I think sometimes circumstances might create poor judgment and the fact that they've played well has allowed us to use good judgment and we'll continue that with him," Fox said. "And I'll remind everyone he's a 12-time Pro Bowler, I think a first-ballot Hall of Fame guy and we're looking forward to getting him COMPLETELY healthy and get him back in the lineup."
Bailey revealed recently that he's dealing with the dreaded Lisfranc injury, albeit a much milder version than the one that forced All-Pro left tackle Ryan Clady under the knife and ended his season last month.
Bailey said he feels better this week than he did last week, but said playing Sunday when the Broncos go for their franchise-record eighth straight road win was "up in the air."
"But I am progressing," Bailey reiterated. "I'm getting better, getting more confident about the things I can do on the field."
Rising to the top of the AP Pro32 rankings, the Broncos have thrived without their two superstars, Bailey and All-Pro linebacker Von Miller, who has two more weeks left on his six-game drug suspension.
The Broncos have the league's top run defense with a deep and agile front seven, but they're not nearly as effective pressuring the passer without Miller, who drew an NFL-high nine holding penalties last year to go with a franchise-best 18½ sacks. That's made the work of the shuffled secondary all the more impressive.
If Bailey can't go this week, it might make sense to also deactivate him next week against the hapless Jacksonville Jaguars (0-4), whom oddsmakers expected will be the first-in-history four-touchdown underdog in Denver.
Either way, the Broncos are eager to see what they can do when Bailey and Miller are back in the mix.
"Once I'm out there, once he's out there, hopefully we can pick it up even more," Bailey said.
Notes: Bailey practically yawned at Tony Romo's assertion that Denver's DBs are getting away with grabbing and holding. "No biggie. Everybody is entitled to their own opinion," Bailey said. ... WR Eric Decker (shoulder, ankle) was a full participant Friday for the first time all week.
AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org
Follow AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton