DENVER – The giant banner draped on the side of Broncos Stadium thanked Demaryius Thomas for his time in Denver.
He showed his appreciation by helping the Houston Texans essentially end Denver’s season.
The Broncos traded Thomas on Tuesday and then watched him catch three passes for 61 yards in the Texans’ 19-17 win Sunday. Thomas wasn’t heavily involved – he caught all three targets – but his early 31-yard reception help set up Houston’s first touchdown on its initial drive and got some early jitters out of the way.
“It was very good. It was great,” Thomas said of his early touches. “I'm sure they didn't expect that, get started quick, make them play us both. It was good for us.”
Thomas was Denver’s first-round draft pick in 2010 and became one of the best in club history. He finished third in receptions (665) and second in receiving yards (9,055) and TDs (60) but with Denver below .500 and the $14 million cap hit through 2019 made him expendable.
Thomas said he appreciated everything the Broncos did for him – the banner, the video tribute before the game and the time he spent with the organization. But it was obvious he was ready to move on, and being on a first-place team is a better situation for him.
“I wanted to win bad, not for just me but for the guys that have been working hard and won five in a row,” he said.
He had some trouble with the offense, which was understandable because he had just three days of practice with Houston. He said quarterback Deshaun Watson gave him some in-game direction and he was enough of a factor to give fellow receiver DeAndre Hopkins a chance for a big game.
“The good thing is, they don't blame over here,” Thomas said. “That tells you you've got a good group of guys, a championship team. It's just the small things.”
Thomas had several family members standing on the field when he came out of the visitors tunnel, all wearing his No. 87 Texans jersey. He greeted them and went to the visiting sideline. Before the opening kickoff the Broncos paid tribute with a highlight video, and he acknowledged the cheers from the crowd.
It was all part of a strange day for him.
“This whole thing's been different, been weird,” he said. “Coming out of a different tunnel I never came out, being in a different locker room I've never been in in the past eight-and-half, nine years, seeing my guys warm up. First time my family's ever been on the field. That was special.”
His new teammates wanted him to get a win against his former team, and when Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal as time expired he darted to the locker room in celebration.
“I don't think he'll say that but we wanted him to walk out there as a captain and we wanted him to walk off the field as a winner,” J.J. Watt said.
HEUERMAN BREAKS OUT: With Thomas on the other sideline and Jake Butt on injured reserve, the Broncos turned to tight end Jeff Heuerman to attack the Houston defense.
He responded with his best game in his four-year career. He had career highs in receptions (10) and receiving yards (83) and caught a touchdown pass.
“He made some big plays for us on some crucial downs,” quarterback Case Keenum said. “Backed up, third down, he’s got great hands. He bounced back and had a solid game.”
Heuerman’s 10 receptions doubled his total from the first eight games, and his 83 receiving yards gives him 134 for the season. He showed he can handle a bigger workload.
“Jeff’s had a good year,” head coach Vance Joseph said. “He made a couple of great catches. Some low balls and broke some tackles and made some plays for us.”
PARADIS LOST: Center Matt Paradis hadn’t missed a snap since making his NFL debut in 2015, but he will be missing plenty going forward.
Paradis, the most consistent lineman for the Broncos, suffered a fractured left fibula late in the second quarter and will miss significant time.
“It’s a huge loss, obviously,” Joseph said. “Losing one of our captains and a guy who’s played a lot of football for us.”
Paradis came into Sunday having played 3,850 consecutive snaps to begin his career. It was the second-longest active streak in the NFL, and he anchored a much-maligned offensive line.
“It’s a tough deal,” Keenum said. “I’m hurting for him.”
SHORT YARDAGE: Rookie linebacker Bradley Chubb extended his sack streak to four games. He had six tackles (five solo) and now has eight sacks this season. … Linebacker Von Miller had another sack to give him 9.5 this season. He has 92.5 for his career, which puts him 43rd on the NFL’s all-time list. … Running back Phillip Lindsay had 60 yards rushing on Sunday. He leads all rookies with 591 yards rushing this season.