DENVER -- It is a spinning wheel of fortune, a fast, powerful, migraine-inducing combination of choices for opposing defensive coordinators.
Because Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning can drop back and pick a number, any number, and dial up touchdowns. And Thursday night, in a 35-21 victory over the San Diego Chargers at Sports Authority Field at Mile High, it was wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders' turn.
"I feel like on any given night it can be anybody's night," Manning said. " ... They're all running full-speed routes because they know the ball might be coming to them."
By the time they turned out the lights in the stadium, Sanders had finished with nine catches for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Each of those was a career best for Sanders, and the three touchdown receptions were more than he had in each of his first three seasons with the Pittsburgh Steelers.
"Definitely a great night to be a Bronco," Sanders said. " … Obviously we understand in this offense it can be anybody's night at any moment."
When the Broncos swept up the wreckage from a 35-point Super Bowl loss, the overriding theme -- in both tweaks made to what was a record-setting offense and the retooling of the team's defense -- was an emphasis on speed. Executive vice president and general manager John Elway said he wanted a more athletic roster, "more speed across the board, at every position."
And when the Broncos ranked the offensive players they hoped to pursue in free agency, the guys they believed could come to the team and have real impact, Sanders was at the top of the list -- so much so that the Broncos let wide receiver Eric Decker go into free agency without making him an offer.
The attraction was mutual to be sure, as Sanders consistently has called the Broncos' offense "wide receiver heaven" since his arrival, even as he went through the first five games of the season without a touchdown catch. But with the Broncos having played two games in the abbreviated Sunday-Thursday week, Sanders scored four touchdowns in a five-day span.
"I'm just happy tonight was my night and as a team we got the win," Sanders said. " ... That's the reason why I came here. When I entered the free-agency process, I said I wanted to go to a team that's going to spread the football around, that's going to throw it. ... Every week we don't know where the ball is going to go. [Thursday] night was just my night."
There have been times in recent weeks when Broncos offensive coordinator Adam Gase has said he believes this season's offense could be better than the 2013 version, and it has often been met with a raised eyebrow or two, or three. The Broncos scored a single-season-record 606 points last season with five players finishing with at least 10 touchdowns. No other team in league history has had more than three.
But Sanders' speed, his ability to dismantle press coverage with his quickness off the ball and to elevate and catch the ball in a crowd gives these Broncos a dimension they didn't have a season ago to complement Demaryius Thomas. Toss in running back Ronnie Hillman's athleticism, which has been increasingly on display since Montee Ball's injury (two 100-yard games to go with 4.9 yards per carry over his past three starts), and the Broncos are a ruthlessly efficient collection of matchup nightmares. It is an offense where a remember-when game could pop up most anywhere on the depth chart.
"[Thursday] 18 was looking, was just looking at me," Sanders said. "And it felt good."