- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 9, 2004

Shannon Sharpe always has been as prolific at running his mouth as he was at catching passes. But the NFL’s all-time pass-catching tight end, who retired last spring, went from funny to mean this week.

In the wake of two straight close AFC West defeats that dropped the Denver Broncos two games behind San Diego in the AFC West, Sharpe blasted his longtime coach, Mike Shanahan, and the quarterback, Jake Plummer, who threw the pass that gave him the touchdown record for tight ends.

“Your system worked for a while, Mike,” Sharpe said on his radio show. “You had total control. You picked the guys. You signed the guys. You drafted the guys. Now someone else needs to come in because obviously your ways are not working.”

Sharpe really lit into Plummer, who had four interceptions and no touchdowns in last week’s critical 20-17 loss to the Chargers.

“If you take a grizzly out of the wilderness and put him in the zoo, he’s still a grizzly,” Sharpe said. “Changing his habitat doesn’t change what he is. I don’t even fault Jake. I fault Mike because he puts the ball in his hands. If you’re on a boat and you know this guy is punching holes in your ship and you still allow him to have a hammer and a nail to keep doing it, I don’t feel bad for you.”

Sharpe did call Shanahan after the show and inform him of his comments.

“Shannon’s man enough to give me a call,” Shanahan said. “We’ve done some great things together, [but] I don’t like anybody talking bad about our players. I don’t care who it is. Jake has played extremely well. I think the world of him, and for that I was disappointed.”

As for Sharpe ripping him, Shanahan — 60-28 with two Super Bowl titles in his first five seasons but just 45-33 with no playoff victories the last five — didn’t fire back, noting Pittsburgh’s turnaround this year under Bill Cowher, one of two coaches with more seniority. And Shanahan also knows Sharpe could look pretty foolish if Denver (7-5) wraps up a playoff spot by winning its next three games against Miami, Kansas City and Tennessee (10-26 combined).

Like his coach, Plummer who had a 16-7 record and a 37-18 touchdown/interception ratio as a Bronco before last week, basically took the high road in response to his former teammate.

“If Shannon doesn’t think I’m a good quarterback, it doesn’t mean that I’m going to be less of a friend to him,” Plummer said. “If that’s what his job entails, then he’s doing what he’s supposed to do. I’ve never been out to prove anybody wrong. I’ve been out to play ball and have the guys on my team behind me 100 percent. That’s all I really care about. Everyone will have an opinion.”

Still, Sharpe had better consider his permission to continue to work out at the Broncos’ facility revoked.

Eight straight — San Diego fullback Lorenzo Neal has done it again. When teammate LaDainian Tomlinson went over 1,000 yards last week, it marked the eighth year in a row Neal has served as the lead blocker for a 1,000-yard runner. They include Adrian Murrell of the New York Jets (1997), Tampa Bay’s Warrick Dunn (1998), Tennessee’s Eddie George (1999-2000), Cincinnati’s Corey Dillon (2001-2002) and Tomlinson (2003-2004).

Out of nowhere — Arizona’s Bert Berry, Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney and Atlanta’s Patrick Kerney are the NFL leaders in sacks.

But Colts defensive end Robert Mathis, a fifth-round pick who had 31/2 sacks as a rookie in 2003, is surprisingly next in line. Although still only a part-timer, Mathis has 91/2 sacks, just 11/2 behind Berry’s league-leading total. Although he’s just 235 pounds, Mathis has forced six fumbles with his sacks.

“Robert had the potential because he’s a high-motor guy,” said Washington Redskins linebacker Marcus Washington, Mathis’ teammate in 2003. “Like Dwight, he’s a smaller guy with so much speed coming off the end and Dwight gets the double teams.”

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