ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Early in the season there was a thought Julius Thomas was taking his breakout season of 2013 – 65 catches and 12 touchdowns -- and making it look like a football hors d’oeuvre.
As he punished the Indianapolis Colts in the regular-season opener on the way to seven catches, 107 yards and three touchdowns in the second quarter of a Broncos win, Thomas looked to be headed toward his first 1,000-yard season and a place in the best-at-the-position conversation.
The Colts are again on the Broncos’ docket four months later, this time in a Divisional round playoff game, but this time Thomas is hoping to re-gain some of that September mojo.
“I’m just excited about playing in the playoffs," Thomas said Monday. “It’s a great opportunity. It’s something that you can’t take for granted. To go out there and play and give your team a chance to possibly get back to the Super Bowl is great. I was able to have a lot of success against them in that first game. I would imagine they will do some things a little bit differently. So you can’t say, ‘I had a great game against them the first time. I’ll have three touchdowns on them again.’ You just never really know."
In the nine games following that opening-night touchdown binge, Thomas caught nine more touchdown passes. By the time the Broncos played in St. Louis Nov. 16, Thomas had a league-leading 12 touchdown receptions. But Thomas injured his left ankle in that game and is still working his way back from that.
He missed two games and was in uniform for a third without playing a snap. He had a combined three catches for 63 yards with no touchdowns in the final three games.
Thomas played 33 snaps on offense in the Broncos' regular-season finale, but was not targeted on any of Peyton Manning’s pass attempts. That was the first time Thomas didn't have an reception in a game he played in since Sept. 30, 2012.
It’s why Thomas hopes the Broncos’ bye week, which came with three full days off for the players and four days off from on-field work, will put him in a position to test the Colts' defense once again.
“It was a big week for me," Thomas said. “It was good to get some rest. Every doctor will tell you the most important thing is rest, but it’s tough to do in the middle of the season. So I got a little bit of time to stay off it and get some treatment on it. It went well."
The Broncos did not hold Thomas out of their two practices last week as they did with others such as Manning, wide receiver Demaryius Thomas and wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders. Broncos head coach John Fox has consistently said he believes Julius Thomas is making progress, something Thomas agrees with.
Still, Thomas, who missed much of his first two seasons with a severe ankle injury, has said the current injury is “nothing like" the one he suffered on his first NFL catch in 2011.
“I feel better," Thomas said following Monday's workout. “(I was) able to loosen things up a little bit and start to have a little more movement out there, so it’s definitely coming along."
Despite all of the hand-wringing about the Broncos’ offense as they tried to add some more pop in the run game, the team still finished with the No. 2 scoring offense in the league behind Green Bay. And the 482 points was the third-highest single-season total in franchise history.
But Thomas' re-emergence in the offense would give the Broncos their full allotment of match-up issues for an opposing defense. It would also make it more difficult for defenses to crowd the Broncos’ beloved crossing routes, something defenses have done with more success since Thomas’ injury.
“Even though we’ve been fortunate enough to be in the playoffs four years in a row, it’s not something that guys get," Thomas said of another postseason chance. “We have to make sure we relish this opportunity. But I think you don’t need to be reminded."