The Snake charms Denver

Jake Plummer was well-known in Phoenix. After quarterbacking the Arizona State Sun Devils to their first Rose Bowl trip in a decade, the Cardinals made the local hero their second-round pick in the subsequent 1997 NFL Draft, and he became their starter at midseason. A year later, he led the Cardinals to their first playoff appearance since moving from St. Louis, and their first postseason win in a half-century, when they were still the Chicago Cardinals. Plummer was the face of a franchise that hadn’t really had one for its first eight years in the desert.

But what he found as he got to know Denver was something different. His first glimpse was on Dec. 29, 2002. It was the regular-season finale. Led by Beuerlein, who replaced the benched Griese, the Broncos rolled, 37-7. But the affable Beuerlein would turn 38 just over two months later; at best, he was a temp at the position. Broncos fans at Invesco Field at Mile High knew that Plummer was likely to be the hottest free-agent quarterback on the market, so some chanted, “We want Jake!”

“I was thinking in my head, ‘I want you,’” Plummer would later recall.

Plummer had three choices when he hit free agency for the first time: Arizona, Chicago and Denver. The first offered the comforts of familiarity with the offense, receivers and the city. The second offered the most money, but a dearth of offensive talent. In both cases, the head coach would be fired after the season.

Then there was Denver. Although Chicago had the more recent playoff appearance of the group, in 2001, that 13-3 finish was a fluke, created by opportunistic defense and special teams. Those Bears went 8-0 in games decided by a touchdown or less. After a 4-12 season in 2002, that wasn’t happening again, not without a rebuild.

The Broncos, on the other hand, were ready, even though they’d missed the playoffs two years in a row. Recent Pro Bowlers dotted the roster. Clinton Portis had just won NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year honors.

“You know where I’ve been, you know where my career has gone, and when it came down to the decision, it was all about winning,” Plummer said.

Winning is exactly what he did. The Broncos went 40-18 in his starts, beginning with a 9-2 mark in games he started during the 2003 regular season. That powered their return to the playoffs after two years away.

Plummer was dangerous running the play-action bootleg. With fullback Mike Anderson and Portis aligned behind him in the backfield, the Broncos’ offense had balance, and had at least 30 points in six of Plummer’s 11 regular-season starts.

But the season came crashing down in the wild-card round at Indianapolis, where the Broncos had clinched their playoff berth with a 31-17 win two weeks earlier. The Colts adapted, and throttled the Broncos 41-10, giving them their worst postseason defeat since Super Bowl XXIV.

The defense had faded; the Broncos allowed 23 points per game from Week 5 onward after surrendering just 12 points per game during a 4-0 start. And with Plummer settling in at quarterback, defense would be the Broncos’ area of focus heading into 2004.

Running back Clinton Portis is named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year by the Associated Press

Larry Coyer is promoted from linebackers coach to defensive coordinator

The Broncos announce that the club will hold training camp in 2003 at its permanent facility in Dove Valley

2003 Schedule

Date Opponent Score
9/7 at Cincinnati Bengals 30-10
9/14 at San Diego Chargers 37-13
9/22 Oakland Raiders 31-10
9/28 Detroit Lions 20-16
10/5 at Kansas City Chiefs 23-24
10/12 Pittsburgh Steelers 17-14
10/19 at Minnesota Vikings 20-28
10/26 at Baltimore Ravens 6-26
11/3 New England Patriots 26-30
11/16 San Diego Chargers 37-8
11/23 Chicago Bears 10-19
11/30 at Oakland Raiders 22-8
12/7 Kansas City Chiefs 45-27
12/14 Cleveland Browns (OT) 23-20
12/21 at Indianapolis Colts 31-17
12/28 at Green Bay Packers 3-31
1/4 at Indianapolis Colts (AFC WILD CARD) 10-41

The Broncos conclude season ticket renewals and waiting list additions for 2003, leading to an anticipated 34th consecutive season of home sellouts.

2003 Offense

Pos Player Starts
QB Steve Beuerlein 2
QB Jarious Jackson 1
QB Danny Kanell 2
QB Jake Plummer 11
RB Mike Anderson 5
RB Reuben Droughns 4
RB Quentin griffin 1
Rb Clinton Portis 13
WR Ashley Lelie 10
WR Ed McCaffrey 7
WR Rod Smith 15
TE Dwayne Carswell 10
TE Shannon Sharpe 15
C Tom Nalen 16
T Blake Brocermeyer 2
T Matt Lepsis 16
T Ephraim Salaam 14
G Cooper Carlisle 2
G Ben Hamilton 16
G Dan Neil 14

Jason Elam scores his 1,300th career point, reaching that milestone in fewer games than any player in NFL history

2003 Defense

Pos Player Starts
DE Bertrand Berry 16
DE Reggie Hayward 2
DE Trevor Pryce 16
DT Mario Fatafehi 9
DT Daryl Gardener 2
DT Darius Holland 14
DT Monsanto Pope 5
LB Ian Gold 6
LB John Mobley 7
LB Donnie Spragan 8
LB Jashon Sykes 8
LB Al Wilson 16
CB kelly Herndon 11
CB Deltha O'Neal 6
CB Jimmy Spencer 2
CB Lenny Walls 16
S Sam Brandon 10
S Nick Ferguson 10
S Kenoy kennedy 12