Broncos eye revenge

ROB LONGLEY, in Indianapolis

, Last Updated: 8:40 AM ET

How does a team which hasn't won a playoff game since John Elway retired do it on the road as 10-point underdogs? How does that team go back into the same hostile and noisy dome in which it was blown out a year ago and compete?

And just how do the Denver Broncos get the NFL playoffs started with a big-bang upset when they meet the Indianapolis Colts at the RCA Dome?

FORGET LAST YEAR

Believe it or not, despite the prevailing opinion here in downtown Indianapolis, there may well be a way.

The first key is for the horse-named teams to play a game at football speed, not that of the Kentucky Derby.

The next is to dismiss the 41-10 destruction of a season ago. That wild-card was wild all right, but no contest because the Colts sprinted to a quick start on offence while also capitalizing on clumsy, costly Broncos turnovers.

It was like the Indy 500, as the Colts scored on their first seven possessions and led 31-3 at halftime. Playing catchup against this team in this stadium is next to impossible.

So the best (only?) way to slow down Colts quarterback Peyton Manning may be to keep him off the field, which will be the key to the Broncos' game plan today.

"They've done a great job of getting ahead of teams with their offence and putting the opposing offence into a passing situation," Broncos quarterback Jake Plummer said.

"Controlling the ball, staying close and being balanced between running and passing is key for us."

Surprisingly, perhaps, the mounds of NFL statistics show the Broncos are the best balanced team in the league. With a fourth-ranked offence and fifth-ranked defence, no one else comes close, in fact.

Unfortunately, the Broncos are a classic case study as to how statistics can be for losers. The great variable is Plummer, a dynamic quarterback prone to flatulence of execution.

Plummer's 27 touchdown passes have been offset by 20 interceptions. To make the case for the Broncos anything other than pie-in-the- sky, Plummer can't give it a way.

Then comes the great statistical equalizer.

The Colts lead the NFL with a turnover ratio of plus-36 while the Broncos are near the bottom of the table at minus-19.

Meanwhile, the natives in Denver are getting restless where their mistake-prone quarterback is concerned.

They are used to the execution by Elway, who retired after the Super Bowl-winning 1998 season, not the bummers from Plummer.

Since No. 7 left, the Broncos have played in only two playoff games, both blowout losses. While some of the criticism of Plummer has been unfair, he will have to win a playoff game soon or life will become untenable in Mile High country.

"I don't think there's any question if you talk about greatness that it's what you do in the playoffs," Broncos coach Mike Shanahan said. "You go through history ... you don't talk about many quarterbacks that have not done anything in the playoffs or the Super Bowl."

Because of last year's blowout and the hype surrounding the outstanding season Manning had, few are giving the Broncos much chance in the rematch.

You get the feeling the Broncos are fine with that sentiment, and long memories are charging the motivational process.

TRANSACTIONS

Broncos management has been waiting for this day for a year. They make no bones that trading running back Clinton Portis to Washington for cornerback Champ Bailey and the signing of safety John Lynch were made because of what happened here last year.

"We all try to do what we can to make sure it never happens like that again," Broncos linebacker Al Wilson said. "I mean, that was pretty embarrassing. We're definitely going in with a chip on our shoulders.

"We are going to have an opportunity to go out and shock the world."


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