DENVER (AP) — For the first time in his life, Demaryius Thomas celebrated Brandon McManus missing a field goal.
Thomas won his hasty homecoming Sunday when his ex-teammate’s windless 51-yard attempt drifted wide right, allowing the Houston Texans to escape Denver with 19-17 win.
“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 of Thomas, whom the Texans (6-3) acquired five days earlier from the Broncos (3-6).
Only, Thomas lost the coin flip and didn’t exactly walk off the field a winner — he sprinted.
“I think that’s the fastest I ran all day,” Thomas said. “I ran inside. We got that W.”
DeShaun Watson targeted Thomas three times and Thomas caught all three for 61 yards, including back-to-back grabs for 31 and 18 yards on Houston’s opening touchdown drive.
But he stood to be the goat after a series of fourth-quarter follies that including a false start, lining up in the wrong spot — even having to run over and ask Watson what to do — and having to burn a timeout.
“I messed up a couple of times and I felt like it would have been on me if we didn’t get that W,” Thomas said.
The Texans (6-3) jointed the 1970 New York Giants as the only teams since the merger to win six straight following an 0-3 start. His old team fell to 3-6 with its sixth loss in seven games.
McManus’ second miss of the game came after Case Keenum completed an 18-yard pass between two defenders to Emmanuel Sanders on fourth-and-8 from the Denver 45-yard line with under a minute left.
“Terrible kicks,” McManus said. “Even the 62-yarder, it was terrible.”
Broncos coach Vance Joseph blamed himself for the first miss, saying he got greedy. It backfired when the Texans got the ball in Broncos territory and 18 seconds left in the first half.
Two plays and 20 yards later, Ka’imi Fairbairn’s 46-yarder was wide right. Only, Joseph had called timeout to ice him and Fairbairn nailed his do-over for a 16-10 Houston halftime lead.
Joseph said he didn’t try to get closer for McManus’ game-winning attempt because the Broncos had already reached their “line to go” inside the 35.
Keenum threw a 5-yard pass to tight end Jeff Heuerman, who had a career-best 10 catches for 83 yards and then running back Phillip Lindsay lost a yard, leaving McManus with a 51-yard attempt.
After the Broncos took a 17-16 lead on Keenum’s 12-yard dart to Heuerman between two defenders, Fairbairn put the Texans back ahead with a 37-yard field goal with 14:06 remaining.
Thomas had started all 114 games for the Broncos since Jan. 8, 2012, when he caught an 80-yard touchdown pass from Tim Tebow on the first snap of overtime to beat the Pittsburgh Steelers 29-23.
This time, he drew loud ovations when he emerged from the tunnel for pregame stretch and again during a video tribute after “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
Outside the stadium, the Broncos put up a giant “Thank you, D.T.” banner at the bottom of a 10-story-high image of Thomas next to one of Von Miller, who said last week it was “super weird” not having Thomas as a teammate anymore.
After Thomas lost the coin toss, Denver deferred and Thomas went right to work , catching consecutive passes covering 31 and 18 yards as the Texans took a quick 7-0 lead on Watson’s 7-yard TD pass to tight end Jordan Thomas .
Cornerback Chris Harris Jr. held DeAndre Hopkins without a catch for much of the first half but when the Texans had the ball in the red zone, Watson found Hopkins for an easy 16-yard TD in between bracket coverage by safety Justin Simmons and cornerback Adam Jones for a 13-3 lead.
That was Watson’s 36th career TD throw. The only other quarterbacks in NFL history to have 35 or more TD passes in their first 16 NFL games were Hall of Famers Kurt Warner and Dan Marino.
The Broncos pulled to 13-10 on Devontae Booker’s 14-yard TD run, but two decisions by Joseph backfired in the final 18 seconds of the first half, and that six-point turnaround made all the difference.
Texans: OLB Duke Ejiofor left in the first half with a shoulder injury.
Broncos: Center Matt Paradis broke his right fibula when Keenum rolled up on him just before halftime. Paradis had never missed a snap in his four-year career. Right guard Connor McGovern moved over to center and Elijah Wilkinson came in at McGovern’s spot.
Texans: Travel to Washington on Nov. 18 after a bye.
Broncos: Visit Los Angeles Chargers on Nov. 18 after a bye.
By ARNIE STAPLETON, AP Pro Football Writer
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