ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- Cover up the name and just look at the numbers and it might be a different story.
There are the 105 receptions -- seventh in the league -- and the 1,304 yards receiving, also seventh in the league. But look at the name and see those are Demaryius Thomas' numbers and that’s the bottom line. This was his fourth consecutive season with at least 92 receptions, his fourth consecutive season with at least 1,300 yards.
Then there is the six touchdown catches -- his lowest output since 2011 when he had four touchdowns in the Broncos read-option offense with Tim Tebow at quarterback. There were the 17 dropped passes, including three games when he had at least three dropped passes.
"I see him adjust to this offense, a gradual adjustment because he missed the offseason program," said Broncos wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert. "He’ll be the first to tell you, and I’ll tell you, there are so many more plays he could have made, especially the touchdown numbers. But fact of the matter is, this year is the first time in the program’s history they’ve had two receivers go for 1,000 yards four years in a row. They accomplished a lot, but there were plays out there, a lot more plays, we could have made, all of us, including (Thomas)."
Heading into Sunday’s AFC divisional-round game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, the Broncos could use their marquee players to play to the playoff moment. Thomas is at, or near, the top of that list.
Beyond his importance to their chances of moving on, Thomas said this week that Sunday's game will be a long-awaited personal moment since it is expected to be the first time his mother, Katina Smith, has seen him play in person. Smith was arrested for narcotics trafficking when Thomas was 11 years old, but was one of 46 nonviolent drug offenders who had their sentences commuted in November by President Barack Obama.
Smith is now able to travel after a 60-day period after her release and is scheduled to be at Sunday’s game.
"All of us knows what it would mean to (Thomas)," Broncos wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders said.
It has all made for an emotional, sometimes bumpy ride for Thomas this season. One that started when he skipped the Broncos' offseason program after the Broncos had used the team’s franchise player tag on him before he signed a five-year, $70 million deal in July.
The Broncos changed offenses with the arrival of Gary Kubiak and his new staff. Though Thomas had a playbook and practice video from the offseason workouts while he was away, he wasn’t on the field with his teammates until training camp.
And Thomas’ season has been a mixture of game-changing plays -- like his 36-yard catch in a game-tying drive against New England, his leaping catch-and-run for a 45-yard touchdown just before halftime against Detroit and his 72-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the regulat-season finale -- and those sometimes perplexing drops.
"There were plays I could have made, plays I’ve made in the past," Thomas said. "But we’ve been working to get to this point. I think we’re ready."
Thomas' most difficult game was Nov. 29 against the Patriots when he had five dropped passes in the Broncos’ overtime win. The play that helped put the Broncos in position to tie the game in regulation was his only catch in the game.
"But drops are concentration issues, if a guy couldn’t catch under pressure he wouldn’t be here," Tolbert said. "Every week on my tip sheet I put 'don’t take any ball for granted.' (Thomas) has made plays, we know what he can do, it’s a matter of keeping guys in position to make those plays."
Thomas is one of many Broncos who have referenced last January’s playoff loss to the Indianapolis Colts this week. In a listless game on both sides of the ball for the Broncos, Thomas finished with five catches for 59 yards and scored the Broncos’ only touchdown on their first drive of the game.
"It’s something where we all have to do better, starting with me, I can do better, I can make more plays," Thomas said. "We all want to help get this team where we all want to go."