ENGLEWOOD, Colo. —The 2014 Broncos had a tough act to follow after the previous year's group ripped through the record books to set a number of incredible marks both from the team side, as well as the individual.
But the Broncos didn't go in that same route this season. They started out that way, with a strong first half of the season, but the middle of the season forced them to reconsider their methods. The turning point came in St. Louis, when the Broncos fell to the Rams trying to throw the ball 54 times to come back from a deficit on the road. After that point, the Broncos gave more attention to their running game, beginning to string together great multifaceted performances. The offensive line got in a rhythm, and C.J. Anderson provided a spark from the backfield as the Broncos looked to the ground to help grind out games with a strong defense.
Anderson's breakthrough season ended with a Pro Bowl selection and really began with a spectacular 51-yard catch-and-run touchdown against the Raiders before a hometown crowd as a Bay Area native. His uncanny ability to shrug off tackles and bounce off defenders made him an intimidating opponent, which contrasts with his happy-go-lucky style as a running back just happy to do something he loves.
He wasn't the only player to break out with a first-career Pro Bowl selection for the Broncos, either. Emmanuel Sanders made the trip after nearly doubling his yards from last year. Before the season, he faced a difficult decision as a free agent, and ultimately decided to come to Denver—or as he called it, "Wide receiver heaven." Sanders had wanted to show people he could make the jump to prove himself as one of the league's elite receivers. With 1,404 receiving yards (fifth in the NFL), 101 receptions (fourth) and nine touchdowns, he definitely put his name in a class of select few others. His incredible diving catches were the highlights, but Sanders was a reliable, dependable receiver no matter where he needed to make a catch.
Check out the best photos of the season of Broncos quarterbacks, including Peyton Manning's record-setting 509th touchdown pass.
Demaryius Thomas joined Sanders as the other Broncos' wide receiver named to the Pro Bowl, and he set some new records of his own this year. With 1,619 receiving yards, Thomas wasn't just the NFL's No. 2 in terms of receiving yards, but he also set the Broncos' franchise record for receiving yards. In hindsight, it seems hard to believe that there was talk of a slump for Thomas, but his first three weeks paled in comparison to the rest of his season. That all began with an explosive game in Week 5 against a remarkable Cardinals passing defense, where the Broncos took that defense and absolutely shredded it. Thomas set the franchise record for receiving yards in a single game, Peyton Manning set a personal best for passing yards in a single game, and the Broncos' offense set a franchise record for total net yards in a single game.
Julius Thomas was yet another Pro Bowler on the Broncos' offense, with 12 touchdowns and 489 receiving yards. Thomas was a physical mismatch for safeties and linebackers with great size and athleticism, helping him jump out to an incredible pace with nine touchdowns in the Broncos' first five games. Unfortunately, an ankle injury hobbled him late in the season, but Thomas showcased great skill with the Broncos this year.
And that brings us to Manning, who put his own mark on the league once again. It all comes back to one number: 509. With his talent and longevitity, it seems like records and career benchmarks fall quite often, but Manning passed a big one in Week 7 facing the 49ers in prime time on Sunday night. With an 8-yard touchdown to Demaryius Thomas in the second quarter, Manning passed Brett Favre for most career passing touchdowns, putting his name atop the record books once again. But that's not all it came down to in regards to his season. Manning had 4,727 passing yards—the fourth-most in the NFL this year—with 39 touchdowns, the NFL's second best in that category.
All in all, it was a season of adjustment for the Broncos' offense. They adjusted to balance themselves and open up different possibilities on offense with a talented rushing and passing game, and though the season ended prematurely, they still had plenty of outstanding moments to remember.
Check out the top shots of the running backs, including C.J. Anderson's 51-yard catch-and-run in Oakland.