DENVER (AP)—Jake Plummer went to the bench after a bad interception and flashed an obscene gesture toward a jeering fan in his home crowd. It was hardly what you’d expect from a winning quarterback, but this was hardly a feel-good win for the Denver Broncos.
Backup tailback Tatum Bell ran for 123 yards and Jason Elam kicked a 50-yard field goal with 2:50 left Sunday to help the Broncos overcome Plummer’s two interceptions and eke out a less-than-satisfying 20-17 victory over the woeful Miami Dolphins.
“We fought,” was about the best thing Denver coach Mike Shanahan could say about the win. “We just had to keep on fighting until you get it done, and that is what I was proud of.”
Bell replaced fumble-prone Reuben Droughns early in the game and ran for two scores, but in the third quarter, Bell left with a sprained shoulder that could end his season. That forced Droughns back into the backfield after he had fumbled twice—losing one—on his first four carries.
Despite the injuries, the fumbles and Plummer’s mediocre performance, the Broncos (8-5) snapped a two-game losing streak and kept pace with Baltimore for the AFC’s final wild-card spot. They stayed two games behind San Diego in the AFC West.
“We definitely needed that game to get some confidence back, get some swagger back,” Elam said. “It helps us feel good about ourselves.”
Plummer’s first interception was greeted by boos—not the first time the embattled quarterback has heard them in his season-plus in Denver. He responded by reaching his hand behind his head and making an obscene gesture to a fan after he sat down on the bench. The scene was caught by TV cameras.
“One guy got into my head a little bit, it shouldn’t be that way,” Plummer said. “I’m an emotional guy. I apologize. … I would never direct that at our fans. We have the greatest fans in the league.”
It was that kind of day for the Broncos, who stayed in the playoff hunt but hardly looked like a team that can hand Shanahan his first playoff victory since the 1998 Super Bowl.
The lowly Dolphins (2-11) took this game to the wire, and didn’t bow out until A.J. Feeley threw incomplete to Derrius Thompson on fourth-and-3 with 1:59 left—a play on which Broncos corner Kelly Herndon appeared to be draped all over Thompson before the ball arrived.
“We should have had the catch,” Miami coach Jim Bates said. “The guy was wrapped on his back. The ball was thrown right there.”
Coming into the game, Denver got a good taste of the kind of turmoil Miami has battled all season. With inaccurate rumors swirling about a possible move to Notre Dame, Shanahan spent much of the week fielding questions about his future in Denver. The coach also was forced to defend Plummer against an unexpected attack from former Broncos tight end Shannon Sharpe.
Sharpe said Plummer was a mediocre quarterback who wouldn’t amount to much more, and on this day he was right. Plummer finished 16-of-30 for 219 yards and his two interceptions were both bad. The first—the one that led to the obscene gesture—went to Jay Williams, the fourth defensive lineman to intercept him this season.
The second went to Sammy Knight on an ill-advised pass with the game tied at 17 and the Broncos driving.
“That was a dumb throw at that point in the game,” Plummer said. “It was a play I shouldn’t have tried to make.”
Denver held after the interception and Droughns ran 21 yards to set up Elam’s winning field goal.
Droughns finished with 62 yards to surpass the 1,000-yard mark for the season, but he hardly looked like the confident back who took over when Quentin Griffin caught the fumbling bug earlier this season.
Now, it’s Droughns who has the bug, and after the second of his two fumbles, Shanahan showed no inkling of wanting to put him back in. Bell’s shoulder injury is serious—a third-degree sprain—and it should be interesting to gauge Droughns’ confidence over the upcoming week.
“Obviously, it’s going to be frustrating,” fullback Kyle Johnson said. “But he battled back beautifully and finished up strong.”
Miami FB Rob Konrad left in the first quarter with an injured back. … The Broncos lost DBs Roc Alexander (knee) and Willie Middlebrooks (leg). … This was Denver’s first regular-season win over Miami since 1968. … Bell joined Griffin and Droughns as Denver’s third 100-yard rusher this season. The last time Denver had three was in 1995: Terrell Davis, Glyn Milburn and Aaron Craver.