A breakout effort for Denver wide receiver
Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas scores the winning touchdown on an 80-yard pass on the first play in overtime.
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DENVER -- Demaryius Thomas could only shake his head -- not in disbelief, but in relief.
That wait is finally over.
"It's crazy," Thomas said Sunday after his 80-yard touchdown catch gave the Broncos a 29-23 overtime playoff victory against the Steelers. "I haven't had an explosive game like this since college.
"To come out and win a game, a playoff game, that's just amazing."
It has been only a little more than two years since Thomas averaged 25.1 yards per reception as a Georgia Tech senior and caught the eyes of then-Broncos coach Josh McDaniels, who ultimately made the 6-foot-3, 229-pounder a first-round draft pick.
But to a 24-year-old, it must have felt like an eternity. Dogged by injuries as a rookie last season and again this year, Thomas didn't record his first 100-yard game as a pro until catching four passes for 144 yards Dec. 4 against Minnesota. He also went for 116 yards on seven receptions two weeks later against New England, but his performance Sunday -- with the nation watching -- was off the charts.
Thomas caught four passes from Tim Tebow for 204 yards. That's 51 yards per grab against a Steelers defense that finished the regular season ranked No. 1 among all NFL teams in total defense and, get this, in pass defense.
And consider that Thomas should have drawn even more attention after Denver wideout Eric Decker was lost with a knee injury on the first play of the second quarter when submarined by Steelers linebacker James Harrison.
But to the surprise of Thomas, and perhaps to Broncos coaches, the Steelers defense didn't make any major adjustments after Decker went out. The Steelers still almost dared the Broncos to throw downfield.
That appeared to be their strategy the entire game.
"We saw on film that their safeties pressed [toward the line of scrimmage], so we knew we had to throw the ball to beat them," Thomas said. "They were the No. 1 defense, so I feel they wanted to make a statement to stop the run.
"I don't know if they forgot about our passing game, or what. The past few games, we weren't passing the ball that great. They gave us opportunities."
Thomas said the Broncos offense talked about calling the winning play before going on the field for overtime.
"When I got to the line, I saw the safety [Ryan Mundy] come down," Thomas said. "When they called that, the only player I had to beat was the corner [Ike Taylor]. I went across and got wide open."
Thomas said he noticed during the week in film study that Taylor (6-2, 195) was usually matched up against the opponents' tallest receiver. "I felt if that happened, I could make plays against him," he said.
Thomas gave Taylor fits all afternoon. The tone was set on Denver's second play of the second quarter, immediately after Decker's injury, when Thomas made a double move and caught a pass down the left side for 51 yards. Thomas and Tebow combined for a 58-yarder on Denver's next possession.
Time will tell whether this was a breakout game for Thomas. But Broncos coach John Fox said he knows this much: Thomas is improving. "He's young," Fox said. "I think the more you get in these spots and the more you get these opportunities, the better he gets. He's a very talented, young player who showed some of that today."
First Published January 9, 2012 12:01 am