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The last time the Broncos played the Lions, Denver won big just days after Demaryius Thomas’s death

Players knelt on Thomas’s No. 88 painted on the sideline and a video tribute to Thomas’s Broncos career played before kickoff at Empower Field.
Posted: 9:24 AM, Dec 14, 2023
Updated: 2023-12-14 11:24:06-05
broncos lions demaryius thomas.jpg

DENVER — The Denver Broncos’ showdown with the Detroit Lions Saturday night on Denver7 has playoff implications for both teams.

That last meeting between the two clubs – on December 12, 2021 – was packed with emotion for an entirely different reason.

Three days earlier, Broncos great Demaryius Thomas had died at his Georgia home at the age of 33. Thomas is the Broncos’ third all-time leading pass catcher with 655 receptions and ranks second in yards (9,055) and touchdowns (60) in team history.

Players knelt on Thomas’s No. 88 painted on the sideline and a video tribute to Thomas’s Broncos career played before kickoff at Empower Field.

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Denver Broncos players kneel on a painted tribute to former Denver Broncos wide receiver Demaryius Thomas during the second half of an NFL football game against the Detroit Lions, Sunday, Dec. 12, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Jack Dempsey)

After a moment of silence, the Broncos took the field with 10 men in the huddle. The Lions declined a delay of game penalty that followed the move, which then-Broncos coach Vic Fangio had alerted Lions coach Dan Campbell of ahead of time, according to the Associated Press.

The Broncos would go on to win that contest, 38-10, behind four combined touchdowns by running backs Melvin Gordon and Javonte Williams. Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater threw for 179 yards and two touchdowns in the beatdown. Denver’s final possession of the game was a touchdown drive that, serendipitously, spanned 88 yards.

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A general view of the Denver Broncos against the Detroit Lions in the first half of an NFL football game Sunday, Dec 12, 2021, in Denver. (AP Photo/Bart Young)

The Broncos improved to 7-6 with that win before losing the final four games of the year to finish 7-10. The Lions fell to 1-11-1 with the loss and would finish the year 3-11-1.

This year’s Broncos squad enters the meeting with Detroit at 7-6 and on the bubble of the AFC playoff picture. A win on Saturday would boost Denver’s playoff odds, though if the Broncos were to lose any of its final four games, it would behoove them for it to be this one, since in-conference wins are more important for playoff seeding tiebreakers and the Lions play in the NFC.

The 2023 Lions, of course, are a much different team than those rebuilding Lions from 2021.

Detroit leads the NFC North by two games, but has two matchups with the second-place Minnesota Vikings – and a date with the red-hot Dallas Cowboys – on the schedule to close out its season. Thus, the Lions could use a win to keep a bit of cushion between them and their division challengers.

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Landon Haaf
9:09 PM, Dec 10, 2023

The Broncos have a 9-5 record all-time against the Lions in the teams' 14 games dating back to 1971. Denver has won four of seven at Detroit in the series.

Saturday’s game kicks off at 6:15 p.m. MST on Denver7. Tune in to Denver7 at 5:30 p.m. for special pre-game coverage as soon as the broadcast of college football’s Cure Bowl wraps up.