DENVER – Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas' career year continues to get better every week.
Though Thomas did not reach a season-high in receptions or yards receiving in Sunday's win over the Bucs, he turned in arguably his strongest collective performance of the year, burning Tampa Bay for 99 yards receiving and two touchdowns on eight receptions. With four touchdown catches in his last three games, the hard work that Thomas has put in with his quarterback is becoming more evident every week.
"It's just basically we work," Thomas said. "Work after work. We go out every day and try to get better at what we do, at our craft. We've been on the same page and it's been showing on the field. We want to keep it up and just keep going."
Sunday night, Thomas used his size and speed to turn short passes into long completions. He found holes in the coverage over the middle and also got behind the defense for a big gain down the sideline.
But he saved his best work for the red zone, where crisp routes helped him haul in a pair of highlight-reel touchdown receptions in the third quarter.
His first came despite tight coverage on first-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 8-yard line early in the third quarter. Thomas angled his route toward the middle of the back of the end zone, but was unable to completely separate from his defender. It didn't matter to quarterback Peyton Manning, who had his eyes on Thomas from before the snap of the football.
"On the first (touchdown), I'm just going to tell you, I threw that ball as early as you can throw a pass," Manning said. "An old coach would call that an 'anticipatory throw.' I'm not sure if that is a word or not. But I threw that ball super early and Demaryius came around, kind of came right around the DB and made a heck of a catch. That was a really special play."
Thomas, for his part, said the ball was so well-thrown that its arrival came as a pleasant surprise.
"He put the ball in a great spot," Thomas said. "Right when I turned around, it was right here. It surprised me because I didn't think he was going to throw it to me once I saw how they played. But he put it in the right spot, I was in the right spot and we got the touchdown."
Later in the third quarter, Thomas came through in a similar situation. This time, the Broncos faced second-and-goal from the Buccaneers 10-yard line, and once again, Thomas beat defenders to the inside for six. Double coverage by the Bucs simply wasn't enough to break up the chemistry between Thomas and Manning.
"Basically I think we saw something they were doing," Thomas said of his pre-snap read. "All I had to really beat was the linebacker, I knew the safety was going to be on my back. Peyton put the ball in a great spot and I made a play."
Knowing where the ball is going to be is a luxury Thomas is becoming accustomed to. It's part of a quarterback-receiver relationship that's showing that even the tightest of coverage isn't always enough to stop Manning-Thomas.
"It's great," Thomas said. "You get better and better, and you see him getting better and better. You want to get better for him, because you know he's going to give you a chance where it's tough for defenders to get to the ball."