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David Ramsey: Demaryius Thomas can return to the DT of old with a few major adjustments by Broncos

December 10, 2017 Updated: December 11, 2017 at 11:14 am
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Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas (88) celebrates his touchdown at the end zone in the first quarter as the Denver Broncos took on the New York Jets at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on Sunday December 10, 2017 in Denver. (Photo by Dougal Brownlie, The Gazette).

DENVER - A small moment of sunshine in a lost season.

On third and six early in the fourth quarter, Trevor Siemian throws a completion to Demaryius Thomas, who requires additional tough yards for a first down.

The Jets' Morris Claiborne pounces on Thomas and seems to end all hope on the play.

But Thomas resembles the Thomas of the Broncos glory days. He sells Clairborne with a fake to the sideline and then breezes by him for a first down.

Not a huge play, but a key play. Or, put another way, the kind of play the Broncos repeatedly failed to convert during an eight-game losing streak that stretched over three months.

During this streak of agony, those who adore the Broncos have seen their sports world collapse. The franchise that rolled to five straight AFC West titles and two Super Bowls from 2011-2015 tumbled to near the bottom of the NFL.

The Broncos were shut out for the first time since 1992. The Broncos all but surrendered to the Dolphins and Jay Cutler. The Broncos even managed to draw comparisons to the Browns, the standard for NFL futility.

Sunday's 23-0 victory over the Jets comes far too late to rescue 2017. The Broncos picked a terrible season to be horrible. Mediocrity would have been enough to rule the West, where only nine wins might be required for supremacy.

But the smackdown of the Jets is relevant for 2018. The Broncos lack vital pieces required for success. They have three backup quarterbacks. They lack a running back who seizes control of a game. The offensive line remains subpar.

But pieces for a better tomorrow remain on the roster.

One of those pieces is Thomas, who caught eight passes for 93 yards and almost outgained the entire Jets offense.

For once, coach Vance Joseph talked accurately about his team's performance.

"He came out and played inspired football," Joseph said of Thomas. "It speaks to his career, but today he played inspired for us."

Not long ago, Thomas was putting up astounding numbers. As Peyton Manning's favored target - the sweetest gig in football - Thomas caught 402 passes from 2012-2015 and earned a $70 million contract.

This season, Thomas has been lost in the chaos that is the Broncos offense. Siemian, Brock Osweiler and Paxton Lynch are vastly different, but in a crucial way they've been the same in 2017. No one in the trio has been able to consistently conquer opposing defenses and get the ball to Thomas.

Here's the thing to remember: Thomas can, with the right offense and the right quarterback, catch 90-plus passes next season. He can flirt with 1,500 yards. He can return to the dominance of the Manning era.

His hands are the same. The quarterbacks' arms are the difference.

"I think I've been playing like that all season," Thomas said of Sunday's strong performance. "I just got more opportunities and took advantage of them."

Midway through the first quarter, Siemian dropped back from the Jets' 20 and was engulfed in a fierce rush by linebacker Josh Martin. In the frenzy, Siemian could see Thomas in single coverage against Claiborne.

Siemian threw what amounted to a jump ball to Thomas at the goal line. Claiborne had no chance. He shoved Thomas, drawing an interference call, but the harassment barely bothered No. 88.

"The sun was in my eyes so it was a little tough," Thomas said, "but I got the opportunity."

There's that word again: opportunity. Next season, with a freshly constructed offense and, almost certainly, a new quarterback, Thomas could rise again.

And so could the Broncos.

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