|11-01-2005, 10:22 AM||#1|
Join Date: Apr 2005
Location: Jacksonville, FL
Jeff Chad on Jake
Delirious in Denver
Plummer is finally making all the right decisions
Posted: Tuesday November 1, 2005 10:02AM; Updated: Tuesday November 1, 2005 11:26AM
Jake Plummer threw 20 interceptions in 2004, but he has just three picks in eight games this season.
Doug Pensinger/Getty Images
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It was on an unseasonably sultry, mid-July morning that Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer pulled his packed SUV onto a congested Colorado interstate and headed home. With training camp only three weeks away, he drove toward Boise, Idaho, with his favorite CDs blaring from his stereo, his eyes gazing at majestic sites like Wyoming's Grand Teton Mountains and his thoughts focused on savoring the peace that comes with roaming the open road. What Plummer didn't do on that 12-hour trip was reflect on all the turbulent moments he had endured in Denver over the last two years. He knew nothing good would ever come from that.
That trip, in many ways, sums up one of Plummer's best qualities: The man knows how to put the past behind him. Whether he's dealing with good times or bad times, he's always moving forward, with an insatiable itch to see what he can get into next. The downside of such a trait, especially for an NFL quarterback, is that it makes it harder to learn from his mistakes. The upside, as we're discovering with Plummer's current performances, is that a guy like him is rarely cowed by those same failings. Sooner or later, he expects to come out on top.
So far this season, Plummer is proving what many people didn't think possible: He's developed into the efficient signal-caller the Broncos have long hoped he would become. It's not just that he's the leader of a team which leads the AFC West with a 6-2 record. It's the way he's handling himself this season. Where are all the mistakes that leave fans shaking their heads in disbelief? What about all those ill-advised decisions which remind people of why Plummer was such a risk for this team in the first place? It's been a few weeks since anybody raised those issues.
Plummer has now gone six straight games without a turnover. He's tossed 11 touchdown passes over than span and has completed at least 62 percent of his passes in five of those games. He's also outplaying opponents who have superior reputations. While Philadelphia Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb struggled throughout most of Denver's 49-21 win last Sunday, Plummer threw for 309 yards and four touchdowns. Of course, after the game people focused on how the Broncos offense piled up 564 total yards against the Eagles' suddenly beleaguered defense, but let's be honest -- the story in Denver is always going to be Plummer. If you play the same position as John Elway did, you get scrutinized more than most presidents.
In Plummer's case, he's fortunate the local papers don't track his approval ratings. He hasn't enjoyed many highlights since coming to Denver, which is strange to say for a man who now has a 25-10 regular-season record in his three years as the Broncos starter. He missed five games in his first year with a broken left foot. Last season became more disastrous as the weeks went on, as Plummer threw 20 interceptions and drew national attention -- along with a $5,000 fine -- for flipping off a fan at a home game. Plummer claims his image took such a beating by the end of 2004 that very few people in the Invesco Field crowd cheered when he broke Elway's single-season record for passing yardage last December.
There's no question Plummer has brought some of these problems on himself. He's never quite accepted that he's playing in a market that hungers for any little bit of news it can get on its beloved Broncos. In fact, he recently apologized after calling a local columnist and ripping the woman -- along with Denver fans --after a story she had written named Plummer's current girlfriend. But Plummer also deserves credit for the rhythm he's found on the field. He's currently playing as well as any quarterback in the league.
I spent a couple days in Denver's training camp back in August and I remember head coach Mike Shanahan predicting this type of year for Plummer. It was Plummer's third season in the Broncos offense, Shanahan reminded me, and most quarterbacks elevate their games with that much experience in the same system. The game slows down. The understanding of one's supporting cast increases. The expectations aren't so daunting anymore.
At the time, I figured Shanahan was displaying the same unbridled optimism every head coach reveals in the preseason. Everything is always fabulous until the quarterback starts throwing the ball to the wrong team when the games really count. Now I see what he was talking about. There is a calmness to Plummer's game, a steadiness that was there at the start of the 2003 season, his first in Denver. He's running more of those bootlegs and rollouts that give him great comfort, as the game becomes more about his athleticism and instincts. Few quarterbacks are as accurate as Plummer is on the move.
What he's also doing is playing to the strengths of his team. The Broncos have a great defense, so he's not putting them in bad spots with mistakes. They have a punter in Todd Sauerbrun who can alter field position radically with his powerful right leg, so Plummer doesn't feel so compelled to make a great play on third down by forcing the action. These are huge strides for Plummer. He prides himself on being a playmaker but as he's learning, the best plays a quarterback makes often are the ones that go unnoticed, like throwing the ball away or calling an audible to a more conservative play.
The Plummer who steps under center these days understands how valuable that maturity can be. He's now an older, wiser and steadier quarterback, even though there are still plenty of skeptics who are waiting for him to implode. To them, I say it's not going to happen. As Plummer has shown since this summer, he can recognize the beauty of being on the right path. I seriously doubt he'll do anything to jeopardize this journey now.
Never thought Id see an SI writer on Jake's nuts. Next up on **** eating list is Clayton.