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Haggan, Thomas Shine in Broncos Victory

Posted Dec 4, 2011

Linebacker Mario Haggan and wide receiver Demaryius Thomas both had huge games to propel the Broncos to victory in Minnesota.

MINNEAPOLIS -- Sunday’s 35-32 victory in Minnesota could be classified as a tale that featured two prominent – if not unexpected -- protagonists.

Before the game even started, the first main character was a part of the story. With the talk all week leading up to the game about linebacker Von Miller, and whether he would play with a thumb injury, Mario Haggan was ready to assume the starting role. After all, he did start all 16 games in both 2009 and 2010, attaining loads of experience.
So when the Broncos took the field and Miller wasn’t dressed, Haggan was ready.

"It was a blessing. It was fun," Haggan said. "An opportunity came for me to get out there, and I just wanted to make the best of it.

Haggan gave the Broncos the start on defense they desired in the game’s opening sequence. On Minnesota's fifth play of the game, Haggan made it known he was more than capable of filling Miller's shoes. He burst into the backfield and dropped running back Lorenzo Booker for a 3-yard loss, one of his team-leading three tackles for loss on the game.

But his biggest play was yet to come. After the Broncos were caught in the end zone for a safety on their first offensive play -- Minnesota downed a punt on the 1-inch line -- they needed to catch fire to get going. Haggan provided the spark.

Minnesota quarterback Christian Ponder dropped back to pass from his own 9-yard line, and fired a pass right on the numbers – Haggan’s numbers – as he jumped the route. Haggan returned the interception 16 yards as he rumbled into the end zone to give Denver a touchdown and more importantly, a 7-2 lead at a point in the game in which the offense was struggling.

"That's what we need," cornerback Champ Bailey said. "We pride ourselves on making plays and helping our offense as much as possible. We needed those plays at those moments."

Haggan led the Broncos with 12 tackles and even did a celebration in homage to Miller when he dropped running back Toby Gerhart for a 6-yard loss.

"I was happy to see that for him because he's a good football player," Head Coach John Fox said. "He's played a lot of football here the year prior. He just needed an opportunity and he stepped up in a big way today.”

Haggan continued to shine throughout the game, but in the second half, the spotlight turned onto the game’s other protagonist, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas.
Thomas, who’s just 10 months removed from tearing his Achilles, delivered blow after blow to the Vikings. Just when it seemed like they were pulling away, Thomas kept reeling them in.

It started on the Broncos’ first possession of the second half. Coming out of the locker room, the offense had gained just one first down and 48 total yards in the first half. But that all changed when the third quarter started. The Broncos marched 78 yards down the field in nine plays for their first offensive score of the day, a 21-yard pass from quarterback Tim Tebow to Thomas.

“I was excited when I got my first touchdown because it’s been a long time,” Thomas said.

But he wasn’t done. After Vikings receiver Percy Harvin stretched the Minnesota lead back to eight points, Tebow found Thomas again, this time on a broken play as the quarterback released the ball right before he was pushed out of bounds. Thomas stayed with Tebow, working to get open until finally Tebow found him. Thomas did the rest, as he turned upfield and churned into the end zone, breaking a few tackles en route to the 41-yard touchdown that once again brought the game to within one.

“We have a lot of broken plays so I got another chance to get a catch and then I got the ball in my hands and I took advantage of it,” Thomas said.

Thomas’ two touchdowns were the most he’s ever recorded in an NFL game, but as the game wore on, Thomas continued to be in the center of the action.

There he was catching a 42-yard pass in the fourth quarter – just one play after Harvin scored for the Vikings again -- to set up a Willis McGahee touchdown that, combined with a two-point conversion, tied the game. And with the game winding down and the Broncos down three, who else but Thomas caught a 40-yard pass to get Denver within field goal range.

In the end, Thomas finished with four catches for a career high 144 yards and those two touchdowns in what he says was his best game since college.

“It felt good,” Thomas said. “A couple balls came my way and I made plays on them. It felt like the old me from college. It felt real good and hopefully it will just go up from there.”

Thomas’ role in Sunday’s game wasn’t lost on his teammates either.

“(Thomas) stepped up and made so many huge plays,” Tebow said. “That’s what it’s all about on our team, is helping the guy next to you and one game or another you’re going to get your opportunity and today it was DT’s opportunity. I’m so proud of him because he’s such a great guy and he works so hard. It’s fun to see him have that success.”

With Thomas and Haggan playing starring roles, the Broncos were able to fuel another fourth-quarter comeback and beat the Vikings in what was just another chapter in an already a gripping novel of a season.