It’s the images that dog Jake Plummer. The behind-the-back lateral he threw against the Oakland Raiders in 2002. The left-handed pass he threw against the Kansas City Chiefs last year.
The dozens of times he threw off his back foot, across his body, into a crowded end zone, to the wrong uniform, confirming what everyone thought about him.
Jake the Flake. Jake the Mistake.
You throw more interceptions (114) than touchdowns (90) in six seasons with the Cardinals, and you deserve every bit of your reputation.
But now that the Denver Broncos are 60 minutes away from the Super Bowl, a question:
What does Jake Plummer have to do to earn your trust?
Plummer’s football IQ is still a hot topic around the water cooler. It sparked a 15-minute conversation in our newsroom Tuesday, and the debate rages on message boards both here and in Colorado.
Plummer could give a rat’s you-knowwhat about our opinions, of course. He never has been concerned with public sentiment.
It’s amazing, though, how many people still believe Plummer is the same addlebrained quarterback he was with the Cardinals.
They dismiss his regularseason numbers — 17 touchdowns, seven interceptions — because October doesn’t define a quarterback.
Let’s see him do that in the playoffs.
When the Broncos beat the New England Patriots last Saturday, and Plummer kept his wits about him against Bill Belichick, completing 15 of 26 passes for 197 yards, with one touchdown and one interception, they are still not convinced.
Pittsburgh won’t let Denver run the ball. Jake is going to have to win the game for the Broncos.
Even that might not be enough. Should Plummer play poorly in the Super Bowl, you know the refrain that will follow him into the locker room and the offseason.
Same old Jake.
And that’s unfair.
Look, I don’t know if Plummer has exorcised all his demons. He might throw three interceptions against the Steelers Sunday. He might try one of those wacky passes that has Denver fans grabbing at their hair and screaming at their dog.
But after 16 regular-season games and one postseason contest — how many of you thought Belichick would expose Plummer, by the way — shouldn’t we at least consider the possibility Jake finally has matured as a quarterback?
That’s not the way it works in sports, of course. Only absolutes will do. Phil Mickelson had to win a major. Peyton Manning has to win a big game.
But we’ve used a different curve in grading Plummer. It hasn’t been about whether he could win a defining game. It’s been about whether he’d ever stop making so many stupid decisions in any game.
He’s done that this season. Yes, Denver’s stout defense and strong running game have put Plummer in a position where he doesn’t need to be the hero every Sunday.
But he still has to make the right reads and the right throws, and with few exceptions, Plummer’s brain hasn’t short-circuited.
Yet every time Plummer goes mental for a moment, his past wraps him up and won’t let go. He didn’t make a mistake, like every quarterback does at one time or another. He Jaked it.
Did Plummer earn that reputation?
But should it follow him throughout his career, even if his play says otherwise?
There’s one certain way for Plummer to change his image. If Denver wins the Super Bowl, every WHAT-AREYOU-DOING pass he threw before Feb. 5 will be forgotten. But short of a championship or a brilliant performance in a 42-38 loss, he’ll still be a punching bag for critics. Which makes me wonder: When does the statute of limitations on stupidity expire?