Broncos Update Inside Slant - December 16

Jake Plummer struggled early in the Browns game, but came up big when the Broncos needed it. He stepped up to complete a 46-yard pass to Ashley Lelie, who ended his slump with four catches for 71 yards - including three in the game-tying drive. Check out the Broncos report card for the Browns game as well as all the latest personnel news and notes, quotes and ancedotes in today's Broncos Update Inside Slant.

Clinton Portis didn't tear up a knee as initially feared but the odds are the Broncos will have to go into Indianapolis without him this week. That's no easy task considering Portis has rushed for 692 yards in the last four games.

Can Denver win without him?

"We'll see," tight end Shannon Sharpe said. "I think we can. We beat a Detroit team (without Portis) but that's not Indy or Green bay. We know we have to play well even if we have CP. We have to play well offensively and defensively to give ourselves a chance."

It's not like Denver doesn't have some quality backups. Mike Anderson (51 carries, 201 yards this year) rushed for 1,497 yards as a rookie before moving to fullback last year. And Reuben Droughns, who filled in at fullback while Anderson was serving a substance-abuse suspension, has shown himself capable of moving the chains.

The Broncos also have rookie speedster Quentin Griffin in the fold, though he is averaging just three yards a carry this season (45-135) and was inactive last week after missing practice time to attend a funeral.


--RB Clinton Portis has a high ankle sprain and sprained knee and will be listed as questionable. He was off crutches Monday and improved from 24 hours earlier, but is still unlikely to play Sunday.

--RG Dan Neil has the same injury as Portis, a high ankle sprain, but the chances he'll play are better because linemen don't have to cut and run as much. More will be known much later in the week.

--FB Reuben Droughns played several plays and made it through the game without any setbacks so he'll be available this week if needed to block or carry the ball.

--RB Quentin Griffin is back with the team after spending time to attend a funeral. He wanted to play Sunday but coaches thought he wouldn't be mentally ready and opted to deactivate him.

--WR Ed McCaffrey suffered a mild concussion Sunday but he should be able to go this week.

--CB Lenny Walls suffered a hip bruise early in the game Sunday but he returned and finished the game after getting a pain-killing injection.

QUOTE TO NOTE: "We've got 11 guys that believe, and that's what you've got to have. It definitely starts with the triggerman. That's the most important factor." -- Rod Smith on Denver's offense, which struggled through much of the game but put drove 58 yards in 65 seconds to force overtime.


PASSING OFFENSE: C-- Jake Plummer struggled much of the game, throwing behind his receivers and underthrowing a pass in the end zone that was intercepted. But he came up big when the Broncos needed it, stepping up to complete a 46-yard pass to Ashley Lelie, who ended his slump with four catches for 71 yards - including three in the game-tying drive. The comeback win was the 22nd of Plummer's career but the first as a Bronco. The protection wasn't as solid as Plummer is used to, as he was sacked three times.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A-minus -- Clinton Portis ran hard, and often, as evidenced by his career-high 38 carries for 139 yards. That his longest run was 13 yards was an indication of how well the Browns were playing. But the decision to run him one more time when Denver already was in field goal position in overtime proved costly as Portis suffered ankle and knee injuries that could derail Denver's playoff drive.

PASS DEFENSE: D -- Denver's corners had a tough day, giving up passes of 44, 44, 35 and 27 yards. It was toughest for Lenny Walls, who gave up one long pass and committed two costly pass-interference penalties that led to 10 points. The Broncos got to Tim Couch only twice but they pressured him numerous other times, and got solid play from DE Reggie Hayward, who tipped away two key passes.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Browns topped the 100-yard mark but they needed 26 carries to do it. Jamel White averaged just 2.8 yards a carry. Lee Suggs proved more dangerous with 30 yards on five carries but the Browns went away from him. Denver proved toughest on third-and-short, stopping the Browns on three such possessions.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Jason Elam remains Mr. Clutch, going 3 for 3, with a 51-yarder, a 36-yarder to force overtime and a 25-yarder to win it in overtime. Denver's coverage units once again gave up a big play, this time a 38-yard punt return by Dennis Northcutt that set up Cleveland's go-ahead touchdown. Deltha O'Neal, who missed last week to be with his terminally ill father, came up with a big 26-yard punt return in the fourth quarter.

COACHING: D -- Mike Shanahan will forever be second-guessed on his decision to run Clinton Portis one more time even though the Broncos were at the Browns 10-yard line in overtime and easily in field goal position. Portis suffered a severe ankle and knee injury, which could derail Denver's playoff hopes. And why was Ryan McNeil in the game? He hadn't played much since signing with Denver last month yet his first appearance Sunday he gave up a 35-yard touchdown pass.

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