Welcome to PredominantlyOrange’s new series, “Remembering the Broncos”. In this series, we’ll go back in time and spotlight former players in Denver Broncos history who may not have been Hall of Famers but who were perhaps underrated and more than left their mark in the Bronco canon.
I can think of no better player who epitomizes this sentiment than Jake “the Snake” Plummer. Plummer was drafted by the Arizona Cardinals in the 1997 NFL Draft out of Arizona State. He accomplished a lot as a Cardinal, including a victory over the Dallas Cowboys in the in the 1998 Wildcard that earned the team their first post-season win since 1947. I remember that game. It was a big deal. The Cowboys were still the Troy Aikman-led powerhouse of the ’90s. It was a huge upset.
Even though he passed for more than 15,000 yards in his 7 years with the Cards, Plummer left the team with a reputation for being a bit of a bi-polar QB. There were times when he achieved remarkable success and made some phenomenal plays, but there were also times when he’d make a decision that would leave the fans and coaches apoplectic.
Mike Shanahan’s long-term post-Elway plan was one Brian Griese. And for a time, it looked like Shanny had mined another diamond in the rough when Griese earned a Pro Bowl nod in 2000. But after 4 seasons as the Broncos’ starter, Griese was unable to cement his role as the team’s franchise QB.
Enter Jake Plummer.
Plummer came to the Broncos by way of free agency in 2003. At the time, Broncos fans weren’t too sure about him. After all, the Broncos had chosen not to bring Griese back because of too many inconsistencies. Fans wondered if the Broncos had traded one bi-polar QB for another.
In 2003, his first season as the Broncos’ starting QB, Plummer brought an excitement and play-making ability that had been lacking since John Elway rode off into the sunset. Even though Plummer struggled with injuries (he only started 11 games), he seemed like the perfect fit for the Mike Shanahan offense. It was a system that thrived on the zone running game. Bootlegs and play-action were heavily featured in the passing attack.
Plummer finished the season with 2,182 passing yards, 15 TD and 7 INTs. 7 INTs was a career low for the Snake. He also finished with a career high in passer rating with 91.2. He never did break that mark, although he did get close with a 90.2 rating in 2005.
What really warmed Broncos fans up to Jake Plummer was the fact that he led the Broncos to the playoffs, although the team got decimated by Peyton Manning and the Indianapolis Colts in the Wildcard round 41-10. But it felt like the team was on the right track.
But that loss to the Colts really made an impression on Mike Shanahan. He traded his Pro Bowl running back, Clinton Portis, to the Washington Redskins, in exchange for Champ Bailey and a 2nd round pick that was used to draft Tatum Bell out of Oklahoma State. That was a tough time for many Broncos fans, including myself. Who knows what would have happened had Portis stayed in Denver, but looking back on that trade, I’d say the Broncos made out like bandits.
I had a hard time understanding why Shanny would trade a young star runner like Portis. Portis was a natural fit to the Broncos’ zone running scheme. In his first 2 years with the Broncos, he cracked the 1,500 yard barrier both years, which was a feat that only Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James had ever accomplished. To this day, there are still only 3 players to accomplish that feat.
Shanny was rocked by the magnitude of that defeat. And Champ Bailey was his solution.
Jake Plummer started all 16 games in 2004 and set career passing highs and a several Broncos passing records, including 27 TDs, which stood until Peyton Manning broke it in 2012 with 37. Plummer passed for 4,089 yards, which was another Broncos record, but he also threw a lot of picks that year (20).
It all culminated in another Wildcard berth and another vicious beatdown by Peyton Manning and the Colts. This time it was 49-24. Bailey’s influence on the defense was immense in the regular season, but was not enough to stop the Colts in the playoffs.
2005, in my opinion, was Plummer’s magnum opus. In 2004, he led the league in interceptions, but throughout the beginning weeks of the ’05 season, he played very smart with the ball and made excellent decisions, as his streak of 229 passes without an INT showcased. He was eventually dubbed “No Mistake” Jake, which by season’s end, seemed like a cruel oxymoron. More on that later.
Plummer threw for 3,366 yards, 18 TDs and just 7 INTs on the season. The Broncos went 13-3, won the AFC West and earned the AFC’s #2 seed for the playoffs. Following their playoff bye, the Broncos hosted the defending Super Bowl champion New England Patriots. That game was one of my best post-Elway games as a Broncos fan.
Plummer led the Broncos to victory and broke the Patriots’ 11-game post-season winning streak. The Broncos would advance to host the AFC title game against the Pittsburgh Steelers and a young upstart QB in Ben Roethlisberger. The Broncos were at home and 1 win away from another Super Bowl berth.
Unfortunately, Jake Plummer had his worst game as a Bronco, throwing 4 INTs and unraveling in epic proportions. The Broncos were defeated 34-17 and the Steelers went on to defeat the Seattle Seahawks in the Super Bowl.
Like the Broncos’ first Wildcard playoff loss to the Colts, the AFC Championship game meltdown had a huge impact on Mike Shanahan, as evidenced by his decision to draft Vanderbilt’s Jay Cutler in the 1st round in 2006.
Personally, I was very disappointed that Shanny drafted a QB in the 1st. Despite Plummer’s 1-3 playoff record as a Bronco, I felt that he deserved more love and support from the coaching staff and the fans. Yeah, I remember when Jake flipped off the crowd at Invesco Field, but I don’t blame him for his sign language expletive. He was a fiery, emotional guy. And that was one of the reasons he had been so successful in Denver.
Going into training camp in ’06, there was a full blown QB controversy in Denver. Plummer didn’t handle it very well, both with the media and on the field. Despite this, he started the season as the Broncos’ starting QB and led the team to a 7-4 record. The team sat atop the AFC West again. But after back-to-back losses to the San Diego Chargers and Kansas City Chiefs, Shanahan made the fateful decision to bench Plummer. Jay Cutler was plugged in as the starter and the rest is history.
Under the rookie, Jay Cutler, the Broncos went on to not only lose the division, but missed out on the playoffs for the first time in 3 seasons. The benching of Jake Plummer in the middle of a Division title run, was met by skepticism by the fans and media. And it turned out, we were right.
Jay Cutler never did lead the Broncos to the post-season and was eventually traded to the Chicago Bears by new Broncos Head Coach, Josh McDaniels. Jake Plummer ended up getting traded to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for a conditional draft pick. Plummer never did suit up for the Bucs and instead chose to retire.
In his career with the Broncos, Plummer led the team to a 40-18 record, including playoffs. Had Shanny stuck with Plummer, the Broncos would have likely made the playoffs for the 4th straight year. But alas, it was not to be.
I, for one, am very grateful for Jake Plummer’s contributions to the Denver Broncos canon. Before Peyton Manning came to Denver, Plummer was my favorite Broncos QB not named John Elway. He did a lot for the Orange and Blue. We were in the playoff hunt every year. You could argue that Shanahan’s decision to bench Plummer for Jay Cutler eventually led to him losing his job as the Broncos’ Head Coach. The team never was the same after that.
Tell us in the comments what your best or worst Jake Plummer memory is!