ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) – Of all the records Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos’ high-octane offense set this season, one stands out to wide receivers coach Tyke Tolbert.
“I call it the 5-10 group,” he said Friday as the Broncos wrapped up a week of light practice and headed off for a weekend furlough afforded the AFC’s top seed.
The Broncos (13-3) are the first team to have five players score at least 10 touchdowns in a season: Demaryius Thomas (14), Knowshon Moreno (13), Julius Thomas (12), Eric Decker (11) and Wes Welker (10).
No other team has ever had more than three players hit double-digit TDs.
“That tells you about the players we have on our team, the way Peyton spreads the ball out, how anybody can score at any given time,” Tolbert said. “To have five guys have 10 touchdowns or more is just unbelievable to me.”
Manning says his unprecedented 55 TD passes and 5,477 yards through the air are only temporary records which will be surpassed by Tom Brady or Drew Brees in a year or two – or by any number of other quarterbacks if NFL owners get their way and expand the regular season from 16 to 18 games.
Tolbert thinks the 5-10 group, which includes Moreno’s 10 TD runs and three TD catches, has nothing to sweat.
“They can go to 18 games and that yardage record can be in jeopardy and all that stuff, but that 5-10 group, that’s going to be hard to break,” he said.
At 37.9 points per game, Denver is the highest-scoring team of the Super Bowl era and the beauty of the Broncos’ offense is its balance.
Manning targeted his three starting receivers almost identically: Demaryius Thomas (8.87 times a game), Welker (8.54), Decker (8.5). Julius Thomas, whose dozen TDs broke Hall of Famer Shannon Sharpe’s club record for tight ends, was targeted 6.42 times per game.
Each member of Manning’s receiving corps brings a different skill set to the equation. The common thread is a refreshing unselfishness in an age where prima donnas so often demand passes and attention.
“You never hear them talk about any numbers, anything like that because they know with Peyton Manning the quarterback, they all have a chance to get the ball on any given play,” Tolbert said.
Even when Decker was having trouble finding the end zone early on, his big blocks on screens were springingDemaryius Thomas, who led the league’s receivers with 718 yards after the catch.
“Our whole group is like that and Decker knows that at any point in time that day can be your day,” Tolbert said. “Like when we went to Kansas City, I mean, who’d have thought he’d have four touchdowns? But any day a guy can go out there, it can be a receiver, it can be a tight end, it can be a running back, any day can be your day.”
It was Decker’s day on Dec. 1, when his four TD catches set a club record. He finished with eight TDs in December, rocketing the soon-to-be free agent to the top of the team’s offseason to-do list.
Demaryius Thomas led the Broncos with 92 catches for 1,430 yards and was voted second-team All-Pro on Friday. “It’s been a great year for a lot of things: records, All-Pro, Pro Bowl,” he said. “Hopefully we can make it to the Super Bowl now.”
“You know, for a big guy, 6-3, 225 or 230, he runs really good routes like he’s a smaller guy,” Tolbert said. “That’s one thing I think that stands out from a lot of bigger guys, the fact that he can really run outstanding intermediate routes, as well as go deep, as well as make you miss. So, he’s got the total package. He’s also a very good blocker. He has a lot of knockdowns.”
Welker had an outstanding first season in Denver, catching those career-best 10 TD passes before sitting out the final 3 1/2 games with a concussion. He has no hesitation about returning to the slot next weekend.
“It will be five weeks from the day I had any contact at all,” he said. “I feel good. I feel fine. I feel ready to go.”
The key to springing the wide receivers in the red zone has been the emergence of former college basketball player Julius Thomas, who caught 65 passes for 788 yards after catching just one pass in his first two seasons in the NFL.
“That’s awesome to have another weapon like that jump out on the scene,” Tolbert said. “And the scary part about it, he’s still learning how to play football.”
– By Arnie Stapleton, AP Sports Writer
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