The Cutler Era officially begins

Tuesday, November 28th 2006, 6:12 am
By: News On 6

DENVER (AP) _ Jay Cutler's time has arrived.

Denver Broncos coach Mike Shanahan ended speculation Monday by officially elevating the rookie to starting quarterback for the rest of the year, sending Jake Plummer to the bench.

``He's our future, he's our present,'' Shanahan said.

Cutler, the 11th pick out of Vanderbilt in the draft last April, hasn't taken a snap since the preseason. But Shanahan is hoping a quarterback change can ignite the Broncos' struggling offense against the defending NFC champion Seattle Seahawks this weekend. The team is 7-4, but ranks 26th in the league in yards passing per game (171.5).

``There's a lot of pressure on a first-year quarterback, no question about it,'' Shanahan said. ``I think this kid can handle it.

``I think he gives us the best chance to win.''

A quarterback switch worked in Dallas when Tony Romo took over for Drew Bledsoe. The Cowboys have gone 4-1 with Romo as the starter. San Diego is leading the AFC West behind first-year starter Philip Rivers.

When asked if the situations were comparable, Shanahan was blunt.

``No,'' he said.

Cutler had an impressive preseason for Denver, throwing for 561 yards, third best in the NFL. Romo led the league with 833 yards passing in exhibition play. Cutler's passer rating (108.3) led the league in the preseason.

In his first practice as the starter Monday, Cutler was pumped up, sending several passes over the heads of receivers. There was no question he had extra velocity on his throws.

Shanahan said he won't scale back the playbook for Cutler.

``For us to make the decision we've made, we feel very comfortable he's got complete knowledge of the offense,'' he said.

Plummer will be relegated to backup duty for basically the first time in his 10-year career. He's 39-15 as Denver's starter in the regular season. Shanahan and Plummer have the fifth-best regular-season winning percentage _ with a minimum 50 starts _ since 1970.

However, his last pass as a starter against Kansas City on Thanksgiving night may have typified his season. Plummer, with the heat on, threw an incomplete pass on fourth down when he led Rod Smith too far.

Plummer's passer rating (70.5) is 28th in the league. Only six quarterbacks have a worse rating, and two don't start anymore and three are rookies. Plummer has thrown 11 touchdown passes and 12 interceptions this season. He threw only seven picks last year.

Shanahan said Plummer handled the demotion as well as could be expected.

``I don't think he obviously likes the move,'' Shanahan said. ``Any competitor would not like the move. He's going to do everything he can to help this football team.''

Plummer has three years left on his contract, but no guaranteed money after this season.

``Would I like him here long-term?'' Shanahan said. ``As long as he'd like to be here. I'd love him in that (backup) role if he wants to be in that role. I think time will tell.''

Plummer's grip on the starting job was tenuous at best after the Broncos coughed up a 17-point second-half lead against San Diego at home.

He needed a solid performance at Kansas City on Thanksgiving, a place Denver historically has never played well. Plummer threw an interception off the hands of tight end Stephen Alexander on his second pass of the game. He finished 25-of-39 for 216 yards, which wasn't good enough to save his job.

The Broncos, coming off two straight losses for the first time in two years, host the Seahawks on Sunday night. Shanahan doesn't think the prime-time game will rattle the rookie.

``What's the difference? A game is a game,'' Shanahan said. ``You've got to go out there and perform. He'll handle it well.''