DENVER — Coming off a win over Oakland and with a trip to Kansas City next on the schedule, Denver was due for a letdown against Detroit.
It happened — of course — but the Broncos still found a way to win thanks to Jake Plummer.
Plummer completed 16 straight passes in the first half and threw for two touchdowns as the Broncos held on to beat the Lions 20-16 Sunday for coach Mike Shanahan's 100th career win.
"I think he responded well to the pressure," Broncos running back Mike Anderson said. "You can tell he's a guy who is getting more and more comfortable with this system. He's starting to really get it."
Even with running back Clinton Portis out with a bruised chest, the Broncos figured to have an easy time with Detroit, which hadn't won on the road in nearly three years
With a second rivalry game in three weeks just over the horizon, the Broncos played like they were looking ahead. Denver had just 79 yards rushing, 136 total yards in the second half and let the Lions hang around until the end.
It wasn't until Joey Harrington's fourth-and-10 pass from Detroit's 32-yard line fell incomplete that the Broncos secured their fifth 4-0 start in team history.
The good news for Denver is that it went to the Super Bowl the other four times, including 1998 after a 13-0 start.
"It's scary because you only have to have one or two guys who are off their game a little bit and all of a sudden it's a dogfight just like it was today," Shanahan said.
Plummer picked up where he left off last week against the Raiders.
He had his first pass broken up, but didn't miss again until overthrowing Reuben Droughns on the first play of the third quarter. He 16-for-17 for 185 yards at halftime, with touchdown passes to Ashley Lelie and Shannon Sharpe.
Plummer also recovered two fumbles — one was his own — and was the lead blocker on a double reverse in the first quarter. About the only mistake he made was fumbling in the second quarter while diving for a first down.
Plummer finished 25-for-34 for 277 yards.
"He's that guy, that added dimension that an athletic quarterback gives an offense," Lions coach Steve Mariucci said.
Harrington matched Plummer's two touchdowns after having none in the previous two games, but he wasn't exactly sharp. With tape holding his fingers together, he finished 15-for-33 for 149 yards and missed badly on some of his attempts.
Still, the Lions kept it close.
Denver took a 17-10 lead on Jason Elam's 37-yard field goal late in the third quarter, but Detroit answered with a 43-yard touchdown pass from Harrington to Scotty Anderson to start the fourth.
Jason Hanson had to pull up on the point-after attempt because of a low snap, leaving Denver in the lead.
Elam made it 20-16 on a 41-yard field goal with 3:13 left.
Detroit started its final drive at the 20-yard line, but couldn't reach midfield. The Lions haven't won away from home since Dec. 17, 2000, against the New York Jets, a span of 18 games.
"I think we grew up a little bit today," Mariucci said. "We have more growing up to do, obviously, but I think we learned something today — that if we play as well as we can, we can beat some teams."
Denver won its first three games by dominating early, outscoring opponents 68-13 in the first half.
Not this time.
Detroit gave the Broncos their first deficit of the season midway through the first quarter, when Harrington hit Charles Rogers on a 33-yard touchdown pass.
Denver didn't take long to answer.
The Broncos moved 80 yards in nine plays on the next drive, tying the game on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Plummer to Lelie.
Plummer followed with a 1-yard touchdown pass to Sharpe — his 12th straight completion — on the next drive to put the Broncos up 14-7.