Plummer is also resilient. He learned how unforgiving Broncos fans can be when they booed him after an interception in a preseason game against the Indianapolis Colts. Then the Denver media bashed him after he threw three interceptions in a season-opening 30-10 win over the Cincinnati Bengals, but he responded the following week with three first-half touchdown passes in a 37-13 victory over the San Diego Chargers. Explaining his miserable debut, Plummer says, "I wasn't relaxed. I knew my reads, but I wasn't making the plays. I was trying to not make a mistake. I was the same way in the first half against San Diego."
Plummer sat out the second half against the Chargers with a mildly separated right shoulder, but as he prepared for the team's home opener—a Monday-night showdown on Sept. 22 with the Oakland Raiders—he says he "decided to relax and go play." Then he proceeded to dominate the first quarter. He threw two touchdown passes and ran for a six-yard score as Denver jumped to a 21-0 lead, and his 40-yard scramble was the longest run by a quarterback in franchise history. It was the type of game that Shanahan knew Plummer was capable of. After meeting with his quarterback following the debacle in Cincinnati, Shanahan was glad to see that Plummer hadn't lost his confidence, but he also issued a warning. "I told Jake he's going to be a great quarterback here, but if he throws an interception and we win, people will talk about the interception," Shanahan says. "If he passes for 500 yards and we lose, he's getting the blame. The only way he can win is by winning a championship."
Plummer understands what he's up against Griese, who wasn't waived until June because of salary-cap considerations, warned his successor of the perils of playing quarterback in Denver. Plummer also spoke twice with Elway. "He had some rough years here as well," Plummer recalls, "but I can tell how much of an impact he still has."
Now it is the 28-year-old Plummer's turn. The Broncos have missed the playoffs for the past two years and haven't won a postseason game since Elway led them to the second of their consecutive Super Bowl triumphs, at the end of the 1998 season. "I don't think Jake knew exactly what he was doing earlier in his career," says Flores. "Even he will admit that he was just going out and playing. He was Jake the Snake, the guy who could do no wrong. But that eventually changed, and he had to figure out another way to be a good player. Now he really knows how to prepare for a game." Adds Lions coach Steve Mariucci, "He's playing with a better team now, so he's going to become more efficient, more productive and win more games."
Plummer, however, is hardly complacent. He sat at his locker on Sunday with ice on his right shoulder and knee, thinking about the opportunity to play in meaningful games. There are plenty on the horizon. After Kansas City, the Broncos face the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Minnesota Vikings and the Baltimore Ravens. "I can sense what Brian went through," Plummer says. "They're used to perfection around here. That's the standard I have to live up to."