Ex-Broncos QB Jake Plummer on 499-yard day vs. Falcons: ‘I remember we lost’

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The Denver Broncos will soon have two quarterbacks — John Elway and Peyton Manning — enshrined in the Pro Football Hall in Canton, Ohio.

But neither of those players is the answer to the question: Who owns the Broncos’ single-game record for passing yards?

On Halloween in 2004, it was Jake Plummer who completed 31 of 55 passes for 499 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. He did it against a team the Broncos have played just 14 times in the regular season overall — the Atlanta Falcons — with the 15th time set for Sunday in Mercedes-Benz Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS).

“Remember? I remember we lost,” said Plummer quickly of the 41-28 loss to the Falcons. “That’s what I remember, we lost, I threw a couple picks that hurt us, and [Falcons quarterback Michael] Vick had one of those days you do remember. I remember that, I remember that was a game I didn’t always just sit on the bench between going out there because you almost had to watch him. That dude was shredding us. That was how quarterbacks were going to look, at least that’s what I thought standing there then, that quarterbacks could be like that, you didn’t always have to run the ball and pound heads.”

Plummer’s day is the 25th best — regular season or playoffs — in NFL history and he was 36 inches from the rare air of a 500-yard passing day. The list includes four Hall of Famers in Norm Van Brocklin, Warren Moon, Dan Marino and Y.A. Tittle as well as the leagues’ current royalty at quarterback in Tom Brady, Drew Brees and Ben Roethlisberger.

The list also includes Elvis Grbac, Vince Farragamo and Matt Schaub, but not Peyton Manning (Eli is on there, at 510 yards in a 2012 game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers), Johnny Unitas, Joe Namath (almost at 496) or Dan Fouts. Roethlisberger is on the list three times, yes three 500-yard games in his career, while Brady pulled it off in a Super Bowl loss (505 yards in Super Bowl LII) and the Cowboys’ Dak Prescott did it in Week 4 this season.1

The Broncos, with Manning at quarterback, were also on the other side of it in 2013 when the Cowboys’ Tony Romo threw for 506 yards with five touchdowns in Week 5. But Manning threw for 414 yards, four touchdowns and had his only rushing touchdown as a Broncos quarterback in a 51-48 Denver win.

“You hear those names, yeah, you think about it,” Plummer said. “It was a game where would have clinched something, if it was not a loss, by a lot, I guess it would have a bigger place for me. I’m not the kind of guy who can look back and remember every single series, every single game, it’s not really my style to roll like that. … A victory would mean a lot more, especially since it’s still kind of there in the records, but sitting here talking about it I do remember Rod [Smith] was just on it that day. I know every time I looked up he was open.”

Smith, who is the Broncos’ all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, had a career-best 208 yards receiving during that Halloween game, but asked earlier this season to stroll down memory lane, he simply laughed and said: “We lost so it sucked. Look, you always want to perform, make catches, do it right, score touchdowns. It will always be the most I had in a game, and I appreciate parts of that, I do, but really we lost.”

Toss some of the details at Plummer — like the Broncos 14-3 lead after the first quarter that day, an 80-yard touchdown pass to Smith, the Falcons’ Kevin Mathis’ 66-yard interception return for a touchdown and Plummer’s 304 passing yards in the second half — and he could mentally scroll through each one.

“In the end, I’m kind of glad it still kind of stands, but really we were down in the second half and I was just trying to do anything to get us back in it,” Plummer said. “We were in catch-up mode, and hell, I played six years in Arizona, I knew how to do catch-up mode, I was good at that. Maybe some time later somebody will see that 499 and my name and go like who the hell was that guy and how did he throw for 499 yards?”