DENVER -- It hasn’t been an easy week for Broncos wide receivers Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders.
They -- along with the rest of the pass catching crew -- developed a severe case of the dropsies Sunday in the Broncos' Divisional Round playoff win over the Pittsburgh Steelers. Seven or eight catchable passes hit the turn at Mile High, and both stars contributed to that “cause” if you will. Both have heard about it from the loyal fanbase here in Denver.
“Yeah, I got that question yesterday,” said Thomas, smiling. “I don’t say anything. I just say, ‘We’ll fix it. We’ll be fine.’ That’s all I say. I don’t really have any conversation with them because I get tired of hearing the questions about the drops. I got that same question yesterday. I give them an answer. I say, ‘We’re going to fix that as receivers.’ That’s basically it.”
“Yeah, but I don’t read it, though. I just read the positive,” said the upbeat Sanders. “Everybody is going to have an opinion. Everybody is going to try to voice their opinion, but here I am, a little small kid from Bellville, Texas, getting ready to play in my second AFC Championship game. It’s a blessing.”
Aww, isn’t that sweet? But despite his attempt to gloss over the issue with the public, Sanders admitted that his focus needs to be sharper on Sunday in the AFC title game.
“I think it’s concentration,” he said. “Obviously the easy ones, you think that you’ve just got it, and the tough ones, it’s go up and get it. It’s the big-time catch. That’s what it is, a lack of focus.”
Denver’s coaching staff has taken this receivers back to basics this week, utilizing some catch drills that date all the way back to OTAs.
“It’s reinforcing eyes to the ball,” said Sanders. “It’s one of those things, when you have drops, you’ve got to go back into the lab and you’ve got to start over. You’ve got to take your eyes to the football, and that’s what [wide-receivers coach] Tyke [Tolbert] is trying to emphasize. Hopefully it pays off this Sunday.”
“I think as receivers, of course we’ve got to catch more passes after practice, before practice,” said Thomas, while also admitting that he hasn’t played his “best ball” this season. That was particularly true for the better part of the game against the Pats back in week 12, when Logan Ryan and safety made Thomas look like he wanted to be anywhere that night but on the field. Does he expect the same this weekend?
“I feel like it’s different every time,” he said. “I don’t know what to expect for this upcoming game, but I feel like it’s different every time. I remember one year they had (cornerback) Aqib [Talib] and kind of matched him up with me, but then last time we played them, they had (cornerback) Logan Ryan on me with kind of safety help. I really don’t know because they say he did a great job that I had one catch. I’ll look for anything. I think the main thing is just going out and competing as a whole group and figuring out what they’re doing quickly so we don’t have any turnovers.”
As for Sanders, he was pitted versus second-year corner Malcolm Butler for the entire evening. It was a spirited battle, which is what you get from two players that are as ultra-competitive as these two.
“It was definitely a long day,” confessed Sanders. “Malcolm Butler is a competitor. He’s a Pro Bowl player. He’s having a great season for them. I’ve definitely got my hands full again this week.”
He continued, “I know [Patriots coach Bill] Belichick is big on winning matchups, and he’s telling those guys, ‘Go out, compete and win your matchup,’ but I’m going in with the same mentality. I’ve got to win my matchup, so we’ll see who wins.”
To do that, Sanders, Thomas and the rest of the receivers will need to avoid the mistakes that nearly undid them a week ago, and do it with even more pressure, knowing they’re just one step away from playing for the Lombardi Trophy.