- Associated Press - Tuesday, December 12, 2017

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) - Approaching 30, Demaryius Thomas isn’t the same wide receiver who combined breakaway speed and superior size to join Tory Holt and Marvin Harrison as the only players in NFL history with five consecutive 90-catch, 1,000-yard seasons.

That streak is in jeopardy and his 11.3-yard average per catch is the lowest of his eight-year pro career.

His 68 catches for 771 yards and four TDs are nothing to scoff at but are down considerably from his previous five seasons when he averaged 98.4 receptions for 1,374 yards and 9.2 touchdowns.

That doesn’t mean he can’t still wreck a game plan, as Chuck Pagano insists and Todd Bowles attests.

Thomas is coming off his best game in more than a year - eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown in Denver’s 23-0 shutout of the Jets on Sunday that snapped their eight-game losing streak.

Thomas was the only offensive player who got a game ball from coach Vance Joseph, who gave one to everyone on defense along with their coaches after Denver limited New York to 100 yards of offense in the franchise’s first shutout in a dozen years.

The Broncos (4-9) visit the Colts (3-10) in a Thursday night game pitting two down-on-their-luck teams hoping to finish strong as the long offseason looms. The Broncos are slogging through their first losing season since 2010 and the Colts have lost four in a row for the first time in Pagano’s six-year tenure.

Pagano said Tuesday that Thomas is just as much a focal point of his team’s preparation as Von Miller is.

“Oh yeah, if you’ve got an 88 on or a 58 on, I don’t know if we can slow either of them down,” Pagano said. “But we’re going to do our (best) not to let either one of those guys wreck the game. Absolutely.

“D.T. can still roll and he can still wreck a game, and we’ll give him proper respect.”

That’s what Bowles did last week.

“He’s a big receiver. He’s All-Pro for a reason,” Bowles said. “Obviously, we put our best guy against their best guy and he made more plays than (cornerback Morris Claiborne) did.”

Thomas was targeted 10 times against the Jets.

“I think I’ve been playing like that all season,” Thomas said. “I just got more opportunities and took advantage of them.”

Giving Thomas more chances was part of Joseph’s plan after he challenged his team leaders to step up their play and bring an end to the team’s longest losing streak since 1967.

“We just felt like the last couple of weeks we haven’t challenged people with the ball enough,” quarterback Trevor Siemian said. “Even last week against Miami, it kind of felt like we weren’t challenging people down the field and with the guys we have, we have to be able to do that. Everything kind of goes along with that. With these guys we knew there were going to be a lot of contested catches, tough catches and tough throws. But we had to get some big ones and he (Thomas) stepped up big time.”

Thomas surpassed Hall of Fame tight end Shannon Sharpe to move into second place in two categories: most TD catches (56) and most receiving yards (8,475) in team history.

“Man, it means the world,” said Thomas, who trails only Rod Smith, with 68 TDs and 11,389 yards. “It just shows the hard work I’ve put in paying off.”

The Broncos would like to get their other high-priced receiver going, too.

Emmanuel Sanders hasn’t scored a touchdown since Week 2.

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For more NFL coverage: http://www.pro32.ap.org and http://www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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Follow Arnie Melendrez Stapleton on Twitter: http://twitter.com/arniestapleton


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