DENVER — Jake The Snake doesn't live in Denver anymore — at least not this year.
That's because Jake Plummer doesn't have to make a living doing what he did to earn the nickname.
He no longer has to try to pull off the impossible to lift bad teams out of tough situations. He is finally getting comfortable in his role as one of many good ingredients on a good team. He has gone six games without throwing an interception, a streak any quarterback, from Peyton Manning to John Elway, would take.
Plummer has been efficient, little more than a caretaker at times, but has also been making big plays, as his 309-yard, four-touchdown performance in Denver's win over the Eagles last week showed.
He is now, simply, Jake Plummer, quarterback of the Denver Broncos, a team that reached its bye week at a surprising 6-2. Or how about this: Jake Plummer, MVP candidate?
"That's getting out of hand," Plummer said of the discussion. "I don't even want to talk about that stuff."
Still, since he arrived in Denver in 2003, he has been the ultimate "X" factor on a team that has long had a championship-caliber running game, but needed a quarterback to complement it. Brian Griese, the heir when Elway retired, wasn't the answer. So Mike Shanahan cut ties with him and took a chance on Plummer — in love with his maneuverability, arm strength and competitive fire.
For Plummer, the move had to feel great. He came to one of the better NFL organizations and said goodbye to the Arizona Cardinals, a team mired in losing, one that could never find enough players to help the quarterback fulfill the potential he showed at Arizona State, which prompted the Cardinals to pick him in the second round of the 1997 draft.
But in his first two years in Denver, Plummer couldn't help trying to get fancy. The left-handed passes. Trying to thread unthreadable needles. Forcing passes to covered receivers when open ones were available in closer proximity. All that was Plummer at his worst, and even though he went 19-8 as a starter and set the franchise record with 4,089 yards in 2004, Broncos fans focused on the downside. On the 20 interceptions and the fact he did nothing to help the team snap a playoff-victory drought that has now reached six seasons.
Shanahan stuck by him, getting the Broncos to pay him a $6 million roster bonus in the offseason and insisting that any quarterback needs two years to get comfortable with the system.
As much as that, the coach said he needed to get comfortable with the idea he was on a good team and no longer had to win games on his own. Plummer threw 90 touchdowns and 114 interceptions in six seasons in Arizona.
"When a quarterback gets put in situations where they're behind, a lot of times they're going to force balls where they normally wouldn't have to force," Shanahan said. "That's human nature, especially when a guy is competitive. That's the only way you can win. So that's been a reminder for us with Jake over the last couple of years, to try to eliminate those mistakes, and obviously he's getting better at doing it."
It has been six full games, 25 total quarters and 171 passes since Plummer threw an interception, by far the longest string of his career and one of the best the NFL has ever seen.
That's not to say he's stopped taking risks. He is still throwing deep on occasion, and the play action fakes he's able to make because of the effectiveness of Denver's ground game have given him ample time to get the ball where he wants.
While he's on pace for 3,288 yards, 801 fewer than he threw for last year, he hasn't been put in many situations where he's needed to throw to get the Broncos back into games. So while his yardage is down, his passer rating is 91.3, more than 18 points ahead of his career average.
"You're not a good quarterback unless you have a good team," Plummer said. "You can put Joe Montana on a bad team and there's no such thing as Joe. But this is a great football team and I'm just one piece of the puzzle who happens to get all the praise and a lot of the blame."
Indeed, Plummer has taken his share of blame in two-plus seasons with Denver. The repercussions have not all been good.
Last year, he flashed an obscene gesture to a heckler in the home crowd. He has stuck with a scruffy beard, which has turned him into something less than the clean-cut idol so many fans want their quarterback to be. This year, there was a flap when a local gossip columnist outed his girlfriend, a Broncos cheerleader, in her column. Plummer responded by calling the columnist and taking a dig at Broncos fans, but he has since apologized and insists he likes being Denver's quarterback.
"I don't feel anything, no pressure," Plummer said. "I am who I am. As long as I'm good with guys in this locker room, that's all that matters."
If he keeps playing the way he's playing, the locker room shouldn't be a concern.
"Calm," receiver Rod Smith said. "Honestly, in the three years I've been with him, I've never seen him so calm in the pocket, so calm in practice, so calm in the meetings."
In the end, all Plummer wants is what all NFL quarterbacks want: a championship.
In the past, he came off as too much of a swashbuckler and a risktaker to pull it off. So far this year, though, Jake the Snake is on hiatus.
"You know me. I just want to play ball," he said. "I want to win games and go to the Super Bowl, and if it happens, it's going to be these guys in this locker room who get it done."