Denver Broncos

5 Takeaways from Julius Thomas' Performance in AFC Title Game

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos celebrates their 26 to 16 win over the New England Patriots during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colorado.  (Photo by Justin Edmonds/Getty Images)
Justin Edmonds/Getty Images
Trey WarrenContributor IIIJanuary 22, 2014

Julius Thomas played a huge part in the Denver Broncos win over the New England Patriots in the AFC title game last Sunday afternoon.

His play helped the Broncos reach the Super Bowl for the first time since 1999. We are going to look at five takeaways from his performance last Sunday, as well as look forward to the Super Bowl on Feb. 2.

Added Element From Week 13 Loss

This was the second matchup between the two teams this season. The Patriots won the first game in Foxboro on Nov. 24.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning had his worst performance of the season. He completed just 52 percent of his passes for 150 yards and two touchdowns. Thomas sat on the sideline with a knee injury and watched his team blow a 24-point lead.

Sunday was a different story with Thomas available to play. He caught eight of Manning’s 32 completions and finished the day with 85 yards. He was held without a touchdown for just the sixth time in 16 games.

Although he didn’t score, he proved to be a difference maker in the win on Sunday.

Most Targeted Bronco Receiver

Thomas was targeted 11 times in the game on Sunday, one more than Demaryius Thomas and three more than Eric Decker.

His eight catches were also the most of any Denver receiver. It was just the second time this season he had the most targets and caught the most passes. The first came against the Dallas Cowboys in Week 5 when he had nine catches on 12 targets.

The 25-year-old has been one of Manning’s most reliable receivers this season. According to ESPN Stats and Info, he has completed 74.5 percent of his passes to Thomas with 12 touchdowns and just one interception.

The Denver Post's Irv Moss says he is one of the best pass-catching tight ends in the league. He continues to prove that in his first NFL postseason.

Four Catches For First Downs

Thomas finished seventh in the regular season with 41 catches for first downs among tight ends.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:   Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos is tackled by Chris Jones #94 of the New England Patriots in the first quarter during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19, 2014 in Denver, Colora
Elsa/Getty Images

He has eight in two postseason games, with four coming in the AFC title game. Three of those were on second down with at least 10 yards to gain for a first down. Two of those catches went for 14 yards and the third was worth 37 yards.

That isn't anything new for the California native. During the regular season, he caught 21 passes for 201 yards when the offense faced a second down with six or more yards to gain.

This is a trend Manning and Thomas will have to continue come Feb. 2. They will be facing the top pass defense in the NFL.

37-Yard Catch Helped Ensure Trip to Super Bowl

The final catch for Thomas came in the fourth quarter and it may have been the biggest one.

The Broncos started the drive with 9:26 left on the clock and the Patriots had just scored a touchdown. On second down, Manning found Thomas down the left sideline for a 37-yard catch-and-run. That set up a 54-yard field goal for Matt Prater.

The catch was huge considering they gained just two more yards that drive. Running back Knowshon Moreno had two one-yard rushes and Manning’s two other attempts were misfires.

The drive lasted just 2:26 but it put Denver up by 16 points.

Thomas Will Be X-Factor Against Seahawks

As previously mentioned, Julius Thomas was the X-factor in the second matchup against New England.

He will have that same role in Super Bowl XLVIII against the Seahawks. The Broncos have a handful of skilled receivers but this will be the best defense they have faced. Seattle gave up just 172 yards per game through the air during the regular season. 

Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman will most likely have the duty of covering Demaryius Thomas. On the other side, Byron Maxwell would cover Eric Decker.

DENVER, CO - JANUARY 19:  Julius Thomas #80 of the Denver Broncos makes a catch as he gets tackled by Kyle Arrington #25 and Aqib Talib #31 of the New England Patriots  during the AFC Championship game at Sports Authority Field at Mile High on January 19,
Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

That would leave OLB Bruce Irvin and SS Kam Chancellor, who are both 6’3”, with the best odds to cover the 6’5” Julius Thomas. But we all know how good Peyton Manning is. He will find ways to exploit matchups and force someone like Earl Thomas or Malcolm Smith to cover Julius Thomas.

This is the best core of receivers the Seahawks have faced all season. But it will be the Broncos' tight end who dictates the success of the offense.

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