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PLUMMER'S SEASON TUMBLES LIKE A HOUSE OF CARDS

Word has it that Buffalo fans are upset with the Bills' "sporadic" offense in the last three or four weeks. Perhaps they should follow Mr. Greeley's advice and go West . . . say, to Arizona, maybe.

There they will find a Cardinals offense that has rushed for 100 yards twice all season, has not cracked the 80-yard mark in any other game and is averaging 74.5 yards a game. Passing? Would you believe the Cardinals are averaging only 161.5 yards per game?

Hey, this is a team with talented receivers like Rob Moore, Frank Sanders and David Boston. Running back Adrian Murrell has rushed for 1,000 yards in each of the last three seasons. It's also a team, that in quarterback Jake "The Snake" Plummer, supposedly has the next Joe Montana.

So what gives?

Mostly a lot of bones, ankles and ligaments.

Despite their 6-7 record going into tonight's meeting with the Bills, it has been a year from hell for the Cardinals, in general, and for Plummer, in particular, as 18 interceptions compared to six touchdown passes will attest. It started when Plummer suffered a torn ligament in the thumb of his throwing hand in the second exhibition game. He started the season opener at Philadelphia with one practice behind him, and still led the Cardinals back from a 21-0 deficit to win. Early in that game he suffered an undisclosed groin strain that robbed him of his storied mobility.

Then came some bruised ribs, followed by a broken ring finger to his throwing hand against Washington that sidelined him for a month. He came back to rally the Cardinals past the New York Giants and again against Philadelphia, only to suffer a three-interception, 120-yard passing game in a 28-3 humiliation at Washington last week.

It wasn't until Week Four of the season that he had his three top receivers available for a game. The offensive line, which could be without three starters this weekend and normally starts two rookies, L.J. Shelton and Anthony Clement at the tackles, has been a mishmash due to injuries. They've yielded 39 sacks and haven't been able to block for the run.

"I'm frustrated the way the year has gone, but the last 13 games are behind us, and there is nothing I can do about them," Plummer said. "All we can do something about are these last three games. What I'm looking to do is making steady gains in these last three.

"I've never had to deal with injuries before. You could probably say I thought I was bulletproof and never thought I'd get hurt."

Plummer won't let a few injuries affect his style of play.

"I can't be out there thinking, 'Man, I got my finger broken and my thumb ripped off, and this and that.' If I think about that, then I'm not playing my game. You have to get it all out of your head."

Since his first preseason injury, Plummer has taken part in just 23 practice sessions. The West Coast offense is dependent on timing and reads. Couple his absences with the many injury woes around him, including the training camp car crash that ended tackle Ernest Dye's career and kept guard Lester Holmes out of preseason action -- and it's not hard to figure why the Cardinals' offense needs to crank it up just to reach sputtering.

Plummer is a virtual icon in the Valley of The Sun after leading Arizona State to the Rose Bowl and the Cardinals to their first playoff victory in 25 years. Buffalo has its Flutie Flakes. The Valley has Jake's Flakes. Suddenly, according to a few critics, Jake is the flake who can't do it any longer.

"A lot of people saying that have never played the position, No. 1," he said. "I did a lot at a young age in my first and second year, and people expected a lot from me. I prepared to have the best year possible.

"You have to take things in stride. I'm going to be a great quarterback, I know that for sure. Next year people will be saying, 'Ah, I knew he could do it.'

"Last week (I hit bottom) . . . as far as playing pretty poorly and being frustrated by what's going on, it has been different. Dealing with injuries has been a whole new ball game for me. It's not whether I'm doubting my confidence. It's just a matter of getting the reps in practice. Getting back into the flow of things.

"Injuries can set you back and it has just been one thing after another. Players have these kinds of years. You hope you never do, but sometimes you have them. The good thing is it's not over. I have a chance to improve."

As chance would have it, Plummer competed with Doug Flutie in the SuperStars competition during the offseason. Flutie inadvertently gave Plummer some words of wisdom that he suddenly finds himself digesting.

"Doug told me never to give up on myself," Plummer said. "To truly believe in yourself, and not in what others say about you. Look at him, and what he has been through. I enjoyed talking to him because he had a big chip on his shoulder. It was a good chip, because he was coming out to prove people wrong and there was nothing better than for him to have the year he had.

"He proved that all the doubters who said he was too small, and that you can't play quarterback if you're 5-10, were wrong. I look up to a guy like him, because he has an awesome style of game that I really like to watch."

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