A little more than nine years after the Broncos' 2011 Wild Card win over the Steelers, we spoke with Demaryius Thomas — and several spectators from inside the stadium and around the world — to hear their recollection of one of the most stunning games and thrilling moments in Broncos history. This is Thomas' story, in his own words:
Every game that we played that season was a dogfight. We knew it was going to take 60 minutes to beat us, because we was going to play until the clock says double zeroes. Going into it, we was confident. We had some pieces that we could use to help us and we saw some things that was showing a little weakness on their side. We was OK. … I don't know, we didn't think we was the better team, but you never know. We went in thinking we were gonna win and we were just going to play till 60 minutes [was up]. I know that we said leading up to it, 'Just play for each other each and every minute.' And we came out with a 'W'.
I won't say we felt like an underdog because the stadium, of course, was rocking, thanks to the fans. A lot of people didn't expect us to be where we were at the time. We knew as a group and as a team, we was gonna play our best game. Every day we got on the field, we was gonna put up our best game, play till the 60 minutes was over. And so we did. We didn't say they was the better team by their record, because we're all pros. Sometimes you say 'Any given Sunday,' but we're all pros. We went to work that week and came out with a 'W'.
[After Eric Decker got hurt] it kind of gave Tim not many options to go to, but it was a bigger role to step up and make plays when I got my chance, because the type of offense we had, we threw the ball but we didn't throw it as much. When I got my chance, I made plays on it. I think I averaged 51 yards per catch that game. So I just took advantage of that.
Man, I can say — and no disrespect to [Steelers cornerback] Ike [Taylor] — but that was one of my best games. That was one of my coming-out parties, like I say to myself. I had a couple games earlier in the season, but that's one of the games that I remember for the rest of my career and for the rest of my life because I was coming off an Achilles [injury] … trying to have a name for myself. And coming out having four catching for 204 yards was big for me, and a touchdown. It was big for me, big for our team and it was big for the organization.
I knew we would be able to score first if we got the ball first [in overtime]. I didn't know what we was gonna do, but I knew we was gonna call it and make something work because we were able to move the ball at a good pace that game. It was up and down, but we would have got a chance if we would have finished off that drive, also.
Take a look back on the emotional and thrilling wild-card win over the Steelers on January 8, 2012.
That was one of my best routes on that offense. It was "thimble" to the left. I just remember most of the time when we sent Eddie Royal in motion, the safety would come down because he's thinking we're running the ball, because we did that a lot that season and that game. I remember, I think it was [then-quarterbacks coach] Adam Gase that came up and said, 'We're going to do this the first play. You'll have a chance to make the play and make a big run with it.' I came up with the run — [that was] all I knew I had to do, right off the bat, because I saw the safety come down. I had to beat Ike Taylor, and I beat Ike. … It was at a catchable height. I stayed in stride, caught it on the run. It was perfect. … So, happily, when I caught the ball, it was like my hand was in the perfect position to get him right in the chest with a stiff-arm.
He got me the first time [earlier that game when Thomas tried a stiff-arm]. I remember [then-wide receivers coach] Tyke [Tolbert] saying [as] I was going to the sideline, Tyke said, 'Man, use your speed. Use your speed.' Because sometimes I would forget to use it. I remember on that play I used my stiff-arm and just used my speed and just put my head down and ran. … After that, I just ran into the end zone.
Man, I couldn't hear nothing. It was like it wasn't real. … It was crazy.
The sound [came back] when I ran through the tunnel and in my head, I didn't know the game was over at the time. So I walked back in, and that's when I heard the crowd. I didn't hear the crowd until I turned around and walked back in, because if I knew the game was over, I wouldn't have turned around.
When I saw [Broncos cornerback] Champ [Bailey], he was like, 'The game's over!' and was so excited. That's when I knew the game was over, when Champ came running.
It was insane. If I didn't know no better, I would have thought we won the Super Bowl that game. If I didn't know nothing about the Super Bowl, I would have thought we had won it that game. It was rocking. The fans had the stadium rocking.
It's top three in my football career. In my time playing ball, it's top three for sure. I'd go Super Bowl for number one. This is probably number two. And then 509, three. I'd say it's number two right now. Of course, getting drafted, being able to play football, that comes into play. But this was a big one.