Broncos Update Inside Slant - November 6

Jake Plummer has more than 20 comeback victories, but this stretch run will be the most important of his career. The Broncos have a bye this week, but after that Plummer is expected back in the starting lineup after missing the past month with a broken foot.It won't be easy, though

"He hasn't thrown the football in what five, six weeks," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "And he just was starting to grasp the offense, and in this offense you need repetitions and he hasn't been getting the repetitions.

"I don't know how good he's going to be when he gets back but I know he gives this offense a dimension that we missed and that we didn't have in a long time. He's going to be a very welcomed addition."

Though the Broncos are 5-4, and have dropped three straight, they aren't ready to throw up their hands.

"We have time," defensive end Trevor Pryce cautioned after Monday's heart-breaking last-minute loss to New England.

"The season doesn't slip away until it's over. We have seven games left. And teams have been in this position before, time and again. We've been in this position before, and we won a lot of games. I don't feel it's slipping away."

There's plenty of truth to what he is saying. The past three AFC champions -- Baltimore, New England and Oakland rebounded from 5-4 starts and eventually reached the Super Bowl. And Denver won six of seven and a postseason berth the most recent time it started 5-4, in 2000.

But the Patriots game probably felt more like last season than 2000. The Broncos opened 2002 with a 6-2 record and appeared to be a league powerhouse. But then the Broncos lost close, prime-time games against Indianapolis and New England when they couldn't muster late defensive stops -- and finished out of the playoffs. New England culminated its victory Monday night with a 58-yard drive that ended with David Givens' winning touchdown catch with 30 seconds left.

"This feels like the same old song," linebacker Al Wilson said, cognizant Denver needs a minimum of five wins in seven games even to have a shot at a wild-card berth. It's up to Plummer to punch up some different selections on the juke box.

NOTES, QUOTES, ANECDOTES

--John Mobley will continue to see experts before deciding if he can ever return to the football field.

He suffered a spinal cord contusion against Baltimore, and was to have an MRI on Wednesday, and see a neck specialist Thursday. Teammates say they are more worried about Mobley's health not career, and that appears to be his concern as well.

--The best tonic for what ails Denver may be its schedule. The Broncos have home games after the bye against San Diego and Chicago, before a road game in Oakland. The three teams have a combined six wins on the season, and Denver has beaten the Chargers and Raiders convincingly once already.

--The Broncos are ranked fifth in the NFL on defense, while their offense has slipped to 16th overall with the absence of Jake Plummer.

BY THE NUMBERS: 558 -- Career catches by wide receiver Rod Smith. He had four in the first half Monday night and appeared ready to hit the milestone but caught none in the second half.

11 -- Career starts missed by Jake Plummer because of injury. He missed seven starts in his first six years in Arizona, and already has missed four in one season with Denver.

793 -- Yards rushing by Clinton Portis in eight starts. He remains on pace to top the 1,508-yard rookie effort.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "I'm just going to go home and relax, try to get this knee and ankle healthy and be ready to come back and help get things turned around." -- Tight end Shannon Sharpe on his not-so-exciting bye week.

STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL

Coach mike Shanahan gave his players five consecutive days off during the bye week, an unusual move. But with so many starters banged up, or coming back from injury, he figured that was a better option.

PERSONNEL/INJURY NOTES

--QB Jake Plummer has missed four straight games with a broken foot and shoulder injury, but insists he is on track for a return Nov. 16 after the bye. He will continue to receive treatment all during the bye. If the past is any indication, however, he might be rusty. A sprained thumb kept him from practicing heading into the 1999 season in Arizona, and he struggled out the gate. One major difference is that he was rolling along this year before the foot injury.

--LB Donnie Spragan was on crutches Tuesday because of an ankle sprain, but a lot could change with the bye week. He'll have an extra week to get healthy.

--LB Terry Pierce, who played middle linebacker in college, has been moved outside after injuries to Ian Gold, John Mobley and Donnie Spragan.

--TE Shannon Sharpe is battling knee and ankle injuries, and will spend the entire bye week in town rehabbing so he's ready to go Nov. 16. He still could miss some practice time next week, but there's no question the injuries have been wearing on him.

--LT Ephraim Salaam admits his right knee never will be the same after yet another procedure on it, but he said there's no question he will be ready to go for San Diego on Nov. 16 after missing the past two games.

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