The Denver Broncos lined up with just 10 men on the field for the first snap of Sunday’s 38-10 over the Detroit Lions at home to pay tribute to the late Demaryius Thomas.
The receiver spot where Thomas once regularly lined up for the Broncos was left open and Denver let the play clock wind down for a delay of game. The Lions declined the penalty as fans loudly chanted “D.T., D.T.” The atmosphere in Denver was full of memories of Thomas, who was found dead on Thursday at age 33 at his home in Roswell, Georgia.
Reports indicated Thomas was dealing with seizures. Police said Thursday his death might have resulted from a medical issue.
The Broncos set up a memorial for Thomas around his No. 88 and also played a video tribute for the wideout, who spent 8½ of his 10 NFL seasons with the team. He ranks second in team history with 9,055 receiving yards and 60 receiving touchdowns and third with 665 receptions.
Former Denver quarterback Peyton Manning, who played with Thomas for four seasons, was among the many who paid their respects. Manning and Thomas were teammates on the Denver’s Super Bowl-winning team in 2015.
“Obviously an incredible player: Dependable, accountable, tough, hard-working, unselfish, all of the things you want in a great teammate, much less an incredibly talented receiver,” Manning said in a video released by the Broncos. “But off the field, he was every bit as good a person as he was a player. Very giving to all of his teammates’ charities, great with all of the players’ families, coaches’ families and kids.
“It’s been really tough. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family. He will be dearly missed. He was great to my kids, great to my family, which is more important than any touchdown that he ever caught for me. . . . He was a big reason why I came out here to play. I knew what he had done in just two years, but I also knew what I felt he was capable of doing. And that was a big part of attracting us coming out to play for the Broncos. So for so many reasons, I’m very indebted and thankful to Demaryius.”
Broncos players wore a No. 88 decal on their helmets and many tapped a portrait of Thomas prior to the game.
Broncos coach Vic Fangio said the idea of sending just 10 players on the field at the outset came from Broncos Chief Communications Officer Patrick Smyth.
“I would like to take credit for that idea of the 10 men (on the field to start the game), but it was not me,” Fangio said afterward. “But when they came to me with it, I said, ‘OK.’ Talked with (Lions head coach) Dan Campbell, he agreed to not accept the penalty, which was a classy move on his part and the Detroit Lions. They are a classy organization. And John Hussey, the referee, was in on it, he knew about it.”
Thomas, a four-time Pro Bowl receiver, caught 90 or more passes in five straight seasons (2012 to 2016) and topped 1,000 yards in each of those five campaigns. He caught a career-best 14 touchdowns in 2013.
Thomas finished with 724 catches, 9,763 yards and 63 touchdowns in 143 NFL games. He also played in seven games for the Houston Texans in 2018 and 11 for the New York Jets in 2019.
Thomas, who formally announced his retirement from the NFL in June, would have turned 34 on Christmas Day.
Denver won Sunday’s game behind 111 yards and two touchdowns from running back Melvin Gordon.
The Broncos’ defense held Detroit scoreless in the second half and limited the Lions to 316 total yards.
Elsewhere around the league, Tom Brady tossed a 58-yard touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman with 5:31 remaining in overtime to lift the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to a 33-27 victory over the Buffalo Bills at home.
Buffalo scored 17 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to tie the game before going three-and-out on its first possession in overtime.
Brady threw his second touchdown pass of the day with a soft toss over the middle to Perriman, whose lone catch of the game sent the Buccaneers (10-3) to their fourth straight victory. The game-winner was Brady’s 700th career touchdown pass.
Brady improved to 33-3 in 36 career starts against the Bills after completing 31 of 46 passes for 363 yards. He moved past Drew Brees with an NFL-record 7,143 career completions after connecting with Mike Evans for a 20-yard gain near the sideline with 1:43 remaining in the second quarter.
Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers passed for 341 yards and four touchdowns and Davante Adams had 121 receiving yards and two scores to lift Green Bay over Chicago.
Green Bay, the NFC North leader, took control on rushing and receiving touchdowns from Aaron Jones in the third quarter, as the Bears (4-9) sputtered to their seventh loss in eight games.
In Cleveland, defensive end Myles Garrett scored his first career touchdown as the Browns picked up a 24-22 win over Baltimore.
Former NFL MVP Lamar Jackson suffered a sprained right ankle early in the second quarter after being sacked by Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah. The Ravens (8-5) ruled out Jackson before the start of the third quarter and coach John Harbaugh said he will be evaluated Monday to determine the severity of the injury.
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