First ...

Led by John Elway, Denver won the Super Bowl in 1999. The team has been looking for a quarterback ever since.

Broncos pass QB reins again

Nfl Week

December 10, 2006|By Alex Marvez | Alex Marvez,South Florida Sun-Sentinel

His name is being removed from AutoNation's Denver-area car dealerships, but John Elway's image will remain fresh in the minds of Broncos fans as long as the franchise continues playing lemons at quarterback.

Denver hasn't cemented an adequate replacement since Elway ended his Hall of Fame career after the 1998 season. The Broncos haven't gone to a Super Bowl since Elway guided the team to consecutive championships in his final two seasons before retiring in 1999.

Not that the Broncos haven't aggressively tried addressing the matter. Denver thought it had solutions after Brian Griese reached the Pro Bowl in the 2000 season and Jake Plummer led the 2005 Broncos to the AFC championship game after an 18-touchdown, seven-interception regular season.

In both cases, the success was short-lived and costly because the Broncos had given Griese and Plummer lucrative contracts. Griese's play disintegrated to the point that he was released after the 2002 season. That led to Denver signing Plummer, who had manned the position until struggling so much this season that coach Mike Shanahan yanked him in favor of rookie Jay Cutler before last Sunday's 23-20 loss to Seattle.

The decision wasn't made lightly, especially with the Broncos (7-5) still in the playoff hunt entering today's game against San Diego (10-2).

Shanahan wanted to avoid starting his rookie quarterback so Cutler wouldn't have to endure the same kind of growing pains that an ill-prepared Griese endured when thrust into the lineup as a second-year player in 1999.

But Plummer's inability to avoid turnovers or spark the offense triggered the move in what is becoming the lowest-scoring team (17.9 points per game) in Shanahan's 12-year coaching tenure.

Cutler's inexperience became evident against Seattle with five minutes remaining in the second quarter and Denver holding a 10-0 lead. Trying to avoid a sack, Cutler wildly tossed the ball into the air while being taken to the ground. Seahawks defensive end Darryl Tapp intercepted and returned it 25 yards for a touchdown that changed the game's complexion.

Cutler later threw another interception and was sacked three times . He finished 10-for-21 for 143 passing yards, but 71 came when receiver Brandon Marshall turned a short reception into a touchdown by breaking sloppy tackling. Cutler's other nine completions averaged 8 yards.

Not even a team with a solid defense and rushing attack like the Broncos can overcome that lack of production in the passing game.

However, Denver appears to have a long-term answer at quarterback in Cutler, a heady, strong-armed passer from Vanderbilt who was the 11th overall pick in this year's draft. In fact, Shanahan told the Rocky Mountain News that he hopes to have Elway speak with Cutler "not only about football, but just about the position in general. John went through everything here in Denver."

Elway said he was agreeable to the idea.

"To be honest, I was thinking about [doing] that at the end of the season," Shanahan said.

The end may be coming sooner than the Broncos once thought after opening with a 7-2 record.

Alex Marvez writes for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

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