|12-09-2005, 10:30 AM||#1|
Join Date: Sep 2003
Location: Saratoga, NY
Hair go the Broncos
By Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY
DENVER — Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer, with a scraggly beard and hair he has to brush from his eyes, looks the part of a man leading a quest for the promised land.
Through several games this season, the 6-2, 212-pound Bronco has played it well. Not since John Elway retired after shepherding the Broncos to consecutive Super Bowl victories have the reviews about a Denver quarterback been so rave.
"Some people nationally have talked about him possibly being an MVP candidate," Broncos safety John Lynch says. "I'd agree."
But after a 31-27 loss at the Kansas City Chiefs, Plummer and the AFC West-leading Broncos are at a crossroads as they host the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday. One path leads to the kind of late-season swoon that's been their undoing in recent years. The other magnifies the attention on "Jake the Snake's" apparent change of skin as the Broncos (9-3) try to emerge from the shadow looming largest: They haven't won a playoff game since Elway's departure in 1999.
"We are in a position to take care of our own destiny, and it starts this week," Plummer told reporters Wednesday. "We can't look forward or too far forward to anything."
The Broncos have a schedule cushy enough for a distinct on-paper advantage over their chasers, the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City, both 8-4 with top teams left to battle. Although the Broncos' stiffest challenge figures to be a New Year's Eve game at San Diego, the Chargers have back-to-back road games at the Indianapolis Colts and Kansas City. The Chiefs also face the New York Giants on the road and the Cincinnati Bengals at home.
If the Broncos win out, they would earn at least the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoffs. Home-field advantage is critical to the Broncos, who have faltered badly at Indianapolis in first-round games the last two years.
"We have the makings of having a team that can get it done," Plummer says.
Relying on the people around him
In his third season with Denver, Plummer, 31 this month, is playing like a quarterback who can get it done. His 91.2 rating is tied for sixth best in the league.
He is learning to limit the renegade style that long ago earned him his serpentine moniker to facial-hair decisions. He is operating more comfortably, decisively and efficiently within Denver coach Mike Shanahan's highly controlled system.
"He has a better feel for the system, the supporting cast around him and what he's being asked to do," says Shanahan, who gave Plummer a $6 million bonus in March rather than let him leave through free agency. He reasoned Plummer shouldn't be judged until a third year in the system.
The most tangible measure of Plummer's improvement is his drop in interceptions. After throwing 20 last season, he has six this year. While he was going through a team-record stretch of 8½ games and 229 passes without an interception, local reporters dubbed him "No-Mistake Jake."
"I know that if the defense wasn't playing as well or if we weren't playing as well on special teams or if we weren't running the ball as well, then they would be saying nothing about me," Plummer says.
Indeed, after his two interceptions and a defensive breakdown at Kansas City, the ****ling in the local media this week has focused on the Broncos' poor record on third-down conversions and their fourth-quarter scoring stagnation.
The Broncos' modus operandi this season has been to build big leads, then hang on for the victory. As games and tensions get tighter, Plummer's new sense of discipline undoubtedly will be tested.
"The thing that we've tried to convince Jake of is that you don't have to make every play," offensive coordinator Gary Kubiak says. "You've got a lot of good people around you. You've got to play your position well and play it smart. He's done that. He's played very well for us this year."
After Shanahan decided in the offseason not to add anything to what Plummer was taught his first two years here, Kubiak and quarterbacks coach Pat McPherson reviewed every play from 2004 with Plummer. "Some people thought we just broke him down and taught him how to be a quarterback again," McPherson says. "We didn't do that. We just kind of went back and just looked at what people do in certain situations, worked on getting a little better pre-snap read, that type of thing."
No apologies for being who he is
Plummer came to the Broncos as a free agent from Arizona, where the team's overall lack of talent meant success often swung on his ability to slip from defenses and make seemingly unmakable plays. The situation bred habits that had Cardinals fans cheering Plummer one minute and cursing him the next.
He filled a mixed bag of statistics in six seasons there. Most notably negative were his touchdown-to-interception ratio (90-114) and win-loss record (31-52).
But Broncos fans, pining for Elway and the steady diet of adrenalin-surging plays and late comebacks he provided, saw Plummer's audaciousness as a positive. As the Broncos closed out a 9-7 season at home vs. the Cardinals in 2002, some fans chanted, "We want Jake!" Three months later, after signing a seven-year, $40.7 million contract with the Broncos, Plummer said, "I was thinking, 'I want you.' "
A quarterback's relationship with the Denver fans, though, can be complicated. They will always remember their first love.
'Down-to-earth' Plummer still a prankster
DENVER — At Capital High School in Boise, future Denver Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer was the type who would congratulate a teammate for making a good play with a slap on the helmet — with a mud ball in his hand.
The Broncos right away noticed a distinct difference between Plummer and predecessor Brian Griese, who was generally aloof with teammates; Plummer joins in and even instigates some of the pranks. He gave the offensive linemen coffee mugs with his unshaven mug and the printing "Wake up (d——- bags)!"
Plummer doesn't have the wildest 'do. That honor goes to center Tom Nalen. But the offensive linemen don't talk to the media, so Nalen never must explain his shocked-by-a-socket hairstyle. Asked if the no-media policy hurts the linemen's chances at awards, Plummer said, "I wish I could join them."
He stays as anonymous as he can.
"We retired his jersey last year," says Plummer's coach at Capital, Steve Vogel. "We've got an NFL quarterback coming into our high school and he's just like any other kid walking the halls, in jeans, tennis shoes and a nice shirt. He's just Jake. He's so down-to-earth."
— Vicki Michaelis, USA TODAY
"It is an extremely hot seat," Broncos running back Mike Anderson says.
Last year, criticism came from all corners when Plummer flashed an obscene gesture at a heckler during a home game. This year, a gossip columnist wrote about him dating a Broncos cheerleader, then reported a day later that Plummer called the columnist to complain and, during the conversation, said, "You think Denver has the greatest fans. Well, they aren't."
Plummer apologized after both incidents, but he makes no apologies for being himself on and off the field — something Elway advised Plummer to do soon after he signed with Denver.
"If we're winning ballgames and at the end of the season we're standing on that podium, hey, if (the fans) still don't like me then, how can you win them over?" Plummer says. "I'm a passionate guy that says things sometimes that I probably shouldn't, but I was never raised to not be honest and stand up for what I believe in.
"That's what I am, and that's what fans have to deal with, I guess. If some don't like my hair and beard, then shame on them for judging."
His hair, an antithesis to Elway's clean-cut look, has drawn almost as much notice as his improved play this season. Plummer grew the beard last season, he says, in silent tribute to Cardinals teammate Pat Tillman after the NFL threatened to fine him $30,000 for wearing a decal with Tillman's jersey number on his helmet. Tillman, who also played with Plummer at Arizona State, died in combat in Afghanistan.
"This year I've been playing well when I've had it," Plummer says of the beard, "so why not?"
Shanahan finds his man
Shanahan, who helped mold Steve Young's natural talents into magic with the San Francisco 49ers and who installed the team and system around Elway that finally put the Lombardi Trophy in his hands, drafted Brian Griese as Elway's immediate successor. When Griese not only struggled on the field but also chafed at talk of Elway's legacy, the fans turned on him.
Plummer immediately embraced the legacy, posing for a photo with a life-size poster of Elway the day he was introduced as the Broncos quarterback. He fully realized its implications when he was booed in his first home preseason game.
"That persona will always be here," says Kubiak, Elway's backup from 1983-91. "But I think if there's any guy that can handle it, (Plummer) has proven over a period of time that he's the guy, because he's so confident in what he does and he really loves to play. He plays a lot like John did, from that standpoint."
That's high praise, and not just in Broncos country.
|12-09-2005, 10:08 PM||#2|
RIP Darrent Williams
Join Date: Mar 2005
Location: Glendale, AZ
great article, Plummer deserves the praise.
The team is focused, i loveit!