This Sunday, Mark Brunell makes his return to Denver for the first time since 1998. Back then, the Broncos played at Mile High Stadium, a site where Brunell produced perhaps his most memorable game as a pro.
As a young quarterback for the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brunell led a stunning 30-27 win over the Broncos in the AFC Divisional Playoffs on Jan. 4, 1997. The Broncos were largely considered to be Super Bowl favorites at the time.
Brunell completed 18-of-29 passes for 245 yards and two touchdowns in the game. It was perhaps his breakthrough game as an NFL quarterback.
"It put the Jaguars on the map and it put Jacksonville on the map," Brunell said. "It was a big game for us at the time and it was a special moment for me and my teammates. It got us into the AFC Championship game. It was fun and it was a great memory."
Eight years later, Brunell returns to Denver as the starting quarterback of the Redskins. At age 35, Brunell's career appears to be undergoing a resurgence. After sitting out parts of the last two seasons and struggling in a nine-game stint in 2004 in Washington, Brunell is back at the helm of the Redskins' offense.
He is 48-of-84 for 587 yards and four touchdowns so far this season. His QB rating is 84.8
Still, the 13-year veteran recognizes the need for improvement. The Redskins have been remarkably successful in converting 3rd-and-long situations this season-a positive sign, to be sure. But Brunell would prefer that the offense not settle into those situations too often.
"The idea now is to not get into those third and long situations," he said. "We were very fortunate to convert those into some big plays [against Seattle]. But we have to be more productive on first and second down and at the same time cutting down on turnovers. We also need to be more efficient in the red zone. We have a lot of room for improvement."
Brunell still shows glimpses of the quarterback he was in that 1997 playoff game against Denver. In the fourth quarter of that game, he had a 29-yard scramble on which four Broncos missed tackles. The play set up a Jaguars' touchdown that ultimately proved to be the game-winning points.
Flash forward to this season. Brunell has had two remarkable scrambles in three games.
The first was the 25-yard scramble on 3rd-and-27 at Dallas. The Redskins converted the first down on the next play and the offense went on to score their first touchdown of the game on that drive.
Last Sunday, Brunell had an 18-yard scramble in overtime against the Seahawks. It helped set up Nick Novak's game-winning field goal.
Asked about his scrambles this season, Brunell was typically humble.
"It's not something I hang my hat on," he said. "If it's there I take it. If I said it was instinct, it'd probably sound like some kind of great quarterback. I feel like I'm getting lucky, to be honest with you."