By Arnie Stapleton
The Associated Press
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — They were frustrated a year ago when Tim Tebow didn’t target them very often — and often missed his targets when he did.
Eric Decker and Demaryius Thomas have flourished with Peyton Manning under center, combining for 179 catches, 2,498 yards and 23 touchdowns this season.
They’re two of the biggest reasons the Denver Broncos (13-3) haven’t lost in three months heading into their AFC divisional playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens (11-6) on Saturday.
Having Manning around can do wonders for young receivers, but only if they work hard and stay healthy, the two things that allowed this pair of third-year pros to put aside a history of injuries and have bust-out seasons.
“Anytime that you’re around Peyton, either you get better or you don’t play,” veteran receiver Brandon Stokley said. “He demands that you put a lot of work in on the practice field, demands attention to detail, consistency. And if you do those things, you become a good football player.”
Manning said if anything surprised him in his first season in Denver, it was how quickly he developed a rhythm with his new receivers.
“I would agree that the rapport with the receivers has come probably quicker than I thought,” Manning said, noting you just never know how — or how fast — the timing and chemistry will come together.
Especially with a new team, new coaches, new city, new targets.
Decker started 13 games during the 2011 season but caught just 14 passes after the Broncos dusted off the read-option offense to fit Tebow’s unique skill set. Injuries limited Thomas to seven starts his first two seasons in Denver.
Last season, they combined for 76 catches and 13 TDs.
This season, they had a friendly game of one-upmanship going all season — “Me and Deck are always competing against each other,” Thomas noted. Add Manning to the mix with his pinpoint passes and, at times, equally sharp pointers, and Thomas and Decker thrived under his tutelage.
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