Thomas, as he did in 2014, launched himself out of the Broncos’ bye week with 168 yards receiving against the Green Bay Packers this past Sunday night. And with that effort, Thomas and his team hope he left the pre-bye portion of the season behind and is poised to perform down the stretch.
“What was the key? I don't think (there) was the key," Thomas said. “It was just going out, making plays and making sure I catch every ball I had a chance to make. Of course, the bye kind of helped. I thought over some things, got my mind right, but it was basically just going out and doing my job."
His job, of course, is to be the $70 million Alpha receiver in the Broncos' offense, something that had been missing for much of the Broncos’ six games before their bye week. Thomas had eight dropped passes in those six games, including a three-drop day in Cleveland just before the Broncos’ adjourned for their off week.
It mirrored, at least in some ways, Thomas’ struggles in 2014, when he dropped five passes in the three games before the team’s Week 4. When he returned, he returned to form as well with 226 yards receiving against the Arizona Cardinals, the first game after the bye and the first of 10 100-yard games he had the rest of the way.
In 2014, however, because of a suspension to Wes Welker, the Broncos tried Thomas as a slot receiver and it did not go well as he looked uncomfortable and out of sorts.
“It was probably a little different, last year, it was a different position," Thomas said. “This year, I don't know what it was. It was just trying to get timing down. I really don't know ... it was a totally different thing."
The Broncos did two things against the Packers they believe helped kick-start things for Thomas. First, they opened the game in a two-tight-end set, which gets Thomas working against a base defense, with linebackers and safeties instead of other cornerbacks as the extra players to help in double teams. The Broncos ran eight of their first 10 plays from scrimmage with the look.
Which led to the second item -- the Broncos made a concerted effort to get Thomas involved early in the game. He had an 18-yard reception on the Broncos’ first play from scrimmage and drew a pass interference penalty on the third play from scrimmage.
Thomas, who before the bye was battling a neck injury he suffered on a tackle against the Minnesota Vikings, then had a 30-yard catch on the Broncos' second possession of the game -- the team’s first touchdown drive -- to go with a 47-yard catch on the first play of the second quarter.
“I think the thing with D.T. is that we got D.T. going early," said Broncos coach Gary Kubiak. “That was important in the game. I think that he's feeling better. He went through a couple of weeks where he wasn't feeling really good, so I think that he freshened up over the bye. He looked really good in practice today, but I think that he's playing at a high level."
For the Colts’ part, they are 27th in the league in pass defense and six different receivers have had at least 95 yards receiving against them in eight games. Also, four different receivers have topped 100 yards receiving against them, with Houston Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins' 169 yards leading the way.
“D.T. and I, we continue to work just like all the receivers and quarterbacks do," said Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. “You're always working on your timing, throwing the ball where he's going to be and him being in the position where the ball is going to be ... Give him a lot of credit. He was running some good routes. He was motivated going into that game. He admitted he had a couple of missed opportunities against Cleveland, and so I know he was motivated."