DENVER —**The way Emmanuel Sanders has been starting games, it's hard to tell that he's just been getting acclimated in the offense.
With a 48-yard bomb on the first play Sunday, it seems like the concerns about chemistry between Sanders and Peyton Manning can go a bit back by the wayside. In fact, with two catches in the first quarter for 55 total yards in the first three plays, and 21 yards on three catches in the first three plays of the opening game against Indianapolis, it looks like they're getting in rhythm quickly.
That was indeed a big question mark coming into the regular season. As the Broncos came into their third preseason game—the last chance for Sanders to get reps in with Manning before most of the starters would rest heading into the season—Sanders had yet to catch a pass from Manning outside of practice. Then he exploded for 128 yards and two touchdowns against the Texans, which quelled apprehension.
With his first 100-yard game of his career now under his belt, Sanders is feeling even more comfortable in the offense, he said after Sunday's 24-17 win against the Chiefs.
It's hard to not feel comfortable when you start the game on a play that stretches over half the playing field.
They had known the call since the night before when Offensive Coordinator Adam Gase and Manning had planned on using the play to look for him in the post.
"Gase and Peyton told me, 'Look, first play of the game we're going to take a post and try to go deep if the coverage dictates what we need.' It ended up working out for us really well," Sanders said. "And I tell you what, to start the game out like that on a big bomb was definitely fun, but of course being me, I was still like 'I should've scored. I should've scored.'"
Fortunately for the Broncos, it would finish in a score anyway. Julius Thomas cradled Manning's dart thrown with just enough softness into the corner of the end zone to cap the quick 3:36 drive.
The passing offense would find its stride easily in the first half, with three touchdowns, each to a different receiver.
Though Sanders didn't get one of those touchdowns, he can take solace in knowing that each of the Broncos' scoring drives got key contributions from Sanders.
Outside of scoring, Sanders got quite cozy with Manning in just moving the ball up the field. "I'm optimistic that I'm going to continue to get better and I think the chemistry between me and Peyton is going to get better and the mold of this offense is going to get better," Sanders said.
The mold of the offense certainly can hold plenty of benefits for the receiving corps with Manning under center. Sanders says he understands that and knows how vital it is to be able to make plays with other offensive weapons across the field.
"The good thing is I'm playing outside of Demaryius Thomas and Julius Thomas," Sanders said. "Those guys get so much attention because they're Pro Bowl players. My role is when the coverage rolls away from me, I've got to make plays, and that's what I did. Peyton is depending on me to continuously makes those plays and I'm going to continue to work my butt off so I can."
The air assault finds those who work hard to get open, and opposing defenses face difficult decisions if they try to focus on one side more than the other. In turn, that can leave players like Sanders or Jacob Tamme or Andre Caldwell in favorable situations. Sanders saw himself as a beneficiary Sunday with eight receptions for a total of 108 yards.
"This is why I wanted to be a Denver Bronco, because I knew they sling the ball all over the field and we've got a great offensive coordinator in Adam Gase, who always makes the right call for some reason," he said.
And though it wasn't an impeccable performance from the offense all afternoon, that just leaves them with room to improve. Sanders says they're just scratching the surface. "I think we've got a lot of weapons," he said. "We're still not happy about putting up 24 points. I feel like we've got a potent offense that can continuously do better, and I think that we will."
Demaryius Thomas said that's what makes Sanders a great threat as he gets more in tune with Manning and the offense. "He's a great player, and he's undoubtedly quick. Peyton sees him and he gets open, so it's a good thing as long as we have Peyton with a lot of targets wide open so it's better for the offense."
Sanders said he was happy hitting the 100-yard mark in a game for the first time, but he also noted that he's still looking to improve. He knows that he can improve his chemistry and timing with Manning, which can help the offense improve further by giving it other consistent weapons.
With that in mind, Emmanuel Sanders can put himself in position to be even happier after games as the season goes on.