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Demaryius Thomas challenged himself during bye week, then broke Broncos franchise record

Demaryius Thomas caught an extra 250 balls during the Broncos' bye week one day, an example of how his focus and practice paid dividends in a record-breaking Sunday.

Ron Chenoy-USA TODAY Sports

Denver Broncos fans (and fantasy football owners) everywhere breathed a sigh of relief Sunday as Demaryius Thomas zoomed between Arizona Cardinals defenders for a 31-yard run-after-the-catch touchdown.

The "slump" was over. Any concerns about Thomas not adjusting to an Eric Decker-less offense or working through contract concerns or playing through CBS' oft-reported phantom foot injury were gone. Demaryius Thomas was back.

Demaryius Thomas 31-yard touchdown Cardinals

Then, barely after catching their breath, fans shouted in excitement as Thomas broke free of Antonio Cromartie for an 86-yard score on a go-route, an even more impressive display of Thomas' amazing hands and second-to-none football speed.

Who needs to breathe in the Mile High air of Denver, anyway?

"Somebody asked me, ‘Did y'all challenge Demaryius?'" Peyton Manning said after the game. "Demaryius challenged himself during the bye week. He knew he wasn't playing up to his capabilities.

"He has high goals and high standards and for whatever reason, I think he's been thinking a lot. We did put him in the slot early with Wes (Welker) out. He's been thinking a lot and it's just affected his concentration with catching the football. I think he just had a good look in his eye all week and he got back to his fundamentals and practiced well and played well."

Thomas' good look was enough to break the Broncos franchise record for receiving yards with 226, a mark previously set by tight end Shannon Sharpe in 2002. The Broncos also broke their franchise record for most yards in a game, a mark that never would have happened without Thomas' YAC breakaways.

When you consider that D.T. had a 77-yard touchdown wiped away following Julius Thomas' chop block penalty, you realize that Thomas nearly had a 300-yard day.

"I did challenge myself," said Thomas. "Before we went on bye week, I came in one Monday before everybody and caught like 250 balls. Every game I had drops-and not like I am used to that-so I came in and caught balls. Throughout the week once we got back to practice, I tried to do a little more than what I usually to do."

"Demaryius always does that. He always goes off," teammate Emmanuel Sanders said. "All the media has been criticizing him in terms of his production and things of that sort. I went on NFL Network and told them ‘Demaryius can go off at any moment and have a 200-yard game.' He proved that today."

It was a fingertip-catching, cornerback-burning, helmet-butting-celebration day for Thomas  and company, and one that could stand in Denver's record books for some time.

Unless Thomas challenges himself similarly soon.

Demaryius Thomas Peyton Manning celebrate touchdown Cardinals