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Demaryius Thomas flashes back into view in Broncos’ blowout of the Jets

The football that drifted like a cloud toward the end zone Sunday afternoon seemed to need an eternity to arrive. But Demaryius Thomas was content to wait. The Broncos’ receiver, a pillar of their offense through two Super Bowl runs, waited much longer for a victory.

In the Broncos’ 23-0 blowout of the visiting Jets, their first win in more than two months, Thomas took over, nearly out-gaining New York’s offense by himself. His touchdown catch in the first quarter, a 20-yard back-shoulder floater from Trevor Siemian, gave Denver a 10-0 lead.

In their past eight games combined, the Broncos scored only 16 total points in the first quarter. But Thomas’ touchdown was worth more in solace than in points. The highest-paid player on Denver’s offense finally played like it, catching eight passes for 93 yards, both game-highs.

“The game is about always having fun and that’s what I was doing,” Thomas said. “I think I’ve been playing like that all season. I just got more opportunities and took advantage of them.”

Thomas shot up the Broncos’ all-time receiving list, passing Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe to reach No. 2 in career team receiving yards (8,475) and touchdowns (56). Rod Smith is the only receiver still ahead of him.

In a sideways season, as the Broncos face-planted into an eight-game losing streak, Thomas became a luxury piece on a suddenly rebuilding team. The five-year, $70 million contract he signed in 2015 takes Thomas through the 2019 season, but there’s no certainty he’ll be with the team that long. Even Thomas has predicted change is coming to the roster after this season.

This season alone, Thomas has been forced to adjust to three starting quarterbacks. Siemian, Brock Osweiler and then Paxton Lynch and now Siemian again.

“Those guys don’t deserve this season. They deserve more,” Siemian said of Thomas and No. 2 receiver Emmanuel Sanders. “We just felt the last couple weeks, we haven’t challenged (defenders) with the ball enough.”

Siemian’s lofted pass to Thomas for a touchdown in the first quarter was an aggressive move to stop a skid. He and Thomas took advantage of a vastly out-manned cornerback, the Jets’ Morris Claiborne, who got beat one-on-one at the line of scrimmage, turned his back, never saw the ball and drew an interference flag.

Thomas, a four-time Pro-Bowler, can often dominate a defender like that. His issue, the one that seems to frustrate Broncos fans, is a nagging potential to disappear. He caught just two passes, on 10 targets, in an embarrassing loss at Miami in the previous week.

For the season he has 69 receptions for 771 yards. Those numbers, though, present a challenge: Thomas has not finished with fewer than 1,000 yards in a season since 2011, when he started just five games. He has three games remaining to get 229 yards to reach the mark.

“The fans are always hard on him and I never understood,” Sanders said. “The guy’s had five seasons of 1,000 yards, about to get a sixth. He’s a big-time player.”

On Saturday night, Denver coach Vance Joseph called out the players he considers leaders, including Thomas. He wanted them to help them stop the losing streak.

“It was not a rah-rah speech,” linebacker Von Miller said. “The fringe guys need the rah-rah speech. He challenged the ballers. The ballers are going to ball regardless of the circumstances or the score or the game.”

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