Plummer threw for 303 yards and two touchdowns, and Reuben Droughns scored three TDs as the Broncos beat the Tennessee Titans 37-16 Saturday night to stay in at least a tie for the AFC’s final wild-card slot going into the final week of the season.
Denver (9-6) had lost three of its last four games with two of those losses to teams with losing records, including last week’s 45-17 rout at Kansas City. Plummer hurt Denver more than he helped with nine interceptions and only two touchdowns during that stretch.
Against a defense missing six starters, Plummer was intercepted once, giving him an NFL-high 20 this season. But otherwise, he was superb.
“I’m just happy we got a win. Hey, I can actually say Merry Christmas now and mean it,” Plummer said.
The Broncos gave coach Mike Shanahan his 100th career regular-season victory with the franchise by handing his friend, Titans coach Jeff Fisher, his worst home loss in six seasons at The Coliseum. Seeing such a performance from his heavily criticized quarterback didn’t hurt either.
“For him to come back and fight the way he did under the circumstances, I was pleased,” Shanahan said.
The past month hadn’t been easy for Plummer, who struggled both on the field and off, even paying a fine last week for an obscene gesture. He couldn’t have started this game much better.
He completed his first eight passes, had a perfect passer rating of 158.3 in the first quarter and was 10-of-11 for 144 yards early in the second. He helped Denver score on its first three possessions for a 17-3 lead. He had a 23-yard TD pass to Droughns on the first drive for a lead the Broncos never relinquished.
Plummer was not sacked and finished 21-for-26.
“It is always good for a quarterback to have confidence, especially after all of the criticism,” Denver receiver Ashley Lelie said. “For him to step up and play like he did just shows what type of character he has. We all thank Jake for playing as well as he did.”
Denver handed the Titans (4-11) their fifth straight loss by shutting down Billy Volek, who was trying to become the first quarterback in NFL history to throw for 400 yards in three consecutive games.
Reggie Hayward had three of the Broncos’ six sacks, and the defense also forced two turnovers and limited Tennessee to a season-low 153 yards of offense. The Titans dropped to 1-6 at home this season before a stadium that was nearly empty in the final minutes on the cold Christmas night.
“We wanted to bounce back,” Hayward said. “We got embarrassed last week. We wanted to come back with a strong showing against Tennessee.”
The Broncos even knocked Volek out of the game in the fourth quarter with a bruised left knee, forcing the Titans to use Doug Johnson for the first time this season, with Steve McNair wearing street clothes on the sideline because of his bruised chest.
Volek was 8-of-20 for 111 yards. X-rays of his knee were negative.
“It’s the Bad News Bears this year,” Volek said. “I don’t know what’s going on, but everybody’s banged up.”
The Broncos held the ball for more than 39 minutes and rolled up 496 yards. Droughns rushed 22 times for 91 yards, scored on a 23-yard pass from Plummer and had TD runs of 8 and 23 yards. Jason Elam kicked field goals of 22, 22 and 30 yards.
“We didn’t make enough plays to stay on the field,” Titans left tackle Brad Hopkins said. “They controlled the clock. They did everything we were trying to do, which is a rare thing for this football team.”
The Titans have given up at least 31 points in each game during this skid, the franchise’s longest since an 11-game streak in 1994.
Denver led 24-16 at halftime because Titans linebacker Keith Bulluck picked off Plummer’s pass and set up punter Craig Hentrich for a career-long 50-yard field goal as time expired. Gary Anderson also kicked field goals of 44 and 43 yards.
Tennessee, which lost two more starting lineman to injuries, didn’t score again.
Denver DE Trevor Pryce was deactivated for the game. … Hayward’s three-sack game was the first for Denver since Bertrand Berry had three on Dec. 7, 2003, against Kansas City. … Elam has scored in 187 consecutive games, giving him sole possession of second place ahead of Jim Breach (186, 1979-82). … Hentrich’s field goal was his first since Sept. 7, 2003, against Oakland. … The Titans’ previous worst loss at home was 31-14 to Washington on Oct. 6, 2002. … Titans returner Jason McAddley tied a franchise record with eight kickoff returns, matching Bobby Jancik’s mark in 1963.