DENVER - Brandon McManus missed a 51-yard field goal as time expired, leaving Demaryius Thomas a winner in his homecoming as the Houston Texans escaped Denver with a 19-17 win over the Broncos.
The Texans (6-3) won their sixth straight and the Broncos (3-6) lost for the sixth time in seven games.
Thomas finished with three receptions for 61 yards, but two of them were back-to-back for 31 and 18 yards on the Texans' opening touchdown drive.
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.
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.
After Denver called a timeout with 3 seconds left, the Texans did the same, then rushed the field in relief after McManus' kick drifted wide right.
After the Broncos took a 17-16 lead on Keenum's 12-yard dart to Heuerman between two defenders, Ka'imi Fairbairn put the Texans back ahead with a 37-yard field goal with 14:06 remaining.
It appeared as though Thomas was going to be the goat in his return to Denver just five days after his trade to the Texans when his false start helped thwart the Texans' last possession.
The Broncos got the ball back at their 14 with 3:29 left.
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 Miller, who said last week it was "super weird" not having Thomas as a teammate anymore.
"He's not even No. 88 anymore. He's No. 87," Miller told The Associated Press. "All you can say is that just shows you this is a business."
Thomas was among the Texans captains for the coin toss, which he lost by calling tails.
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 DeShaun 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 Broncos coach Vance Joseph backfired in the final 18 seconds of the first half.
First, he trotted out McManus for a 62-yard field goal try that didn't come close.
The Texans took over at the Broncos 48 and gained 20 yards on two plays. Fairbairn was wide right on a 46-yard field goal attempt but Joseph had called timeout and Fairbairn nailed the do-over for a 16-10 Houston halftime lead.
Texans: OLB Duke Ejiofor left in the first half with a shoulder injury.
Broncos: Center Matt Paradis sustained a serious right ankle injury 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.
Follow the game recap below with KPRC:
He said the transition was made easier by the warm welcome he received from his teammates, including Watson, who was the first to text him after the trade. Thomas said he's admired Watson from afar for a while and is looking forward to playing with him.
"He gets the ball out, great throws, on time, on point," Thomas said. "He can also scramble, too, and that's another exciting thing. That's some of the things you see from him that you can count on as a receiver, because if he scrambles outside of the pocket, he's looking downfield, he's not looking to run. So, that's big plays for guys like me, Hop (DeAndre Hopkins) and everybody else."
Another change Thomas will have to get used to in Houston is wearing a different number since the No. 88 he's worn for his entire NFL career is taken by rookie tight end Jordan Akins. NFL rules mandate that a player isn't allowed to change numbers if he's played more than 30 percent of the team's snaps on his side of the ball in a season, which applies to Akins.
Thomas didn't know the rule when he first learned of the trade and was prepared to negotiate with Akins for the number.
"I was ready to pay him and everything," he said. "I was going to give him whatever he wanted for it."
Since that wasn't an option, Thomas settled on No. 87, but said that if he remains in Houston next season he'll try and snag his number back.
With his new team and his new number, Thomas is ready for a new start in Houston. But first he'll have to revisit his past on Sunday and knows that it will be a difficult trip considering all the memories he made in his time in Denver.
"It'll be tough," he said. "But that's ball and I have to deal with it."
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES
WR Demaryius Thomas (36 catches, 402 yards, 3 TDs) visits Broncos five days after Texans acquired him from Denver to replace Will Fuller (ACL). ... Thomas played in 135 games for Denver, including playoffs, since 2010. ... Texans fifth team since 1970 merger to win five consecutive games following 0-3 start. ... QB DeShaun Watson last week completed 16 of 20 passes for 239 yards with five TDs and zero interceptions for 156.0 passer rating. ... Watson's four games with four or more TDs since entering league in 2017 tied for second-most in NFL. ... RB Lamar Miller only NFL player with 500 yards rushing in each of last six seasons. ... WR DeAndre Hopkins has four TD catches in last three games. ... Hopkins and Steelers WR Antonio Brown only players in NFL with 400 catches and 40 TDs since 2014. ... TE Jordan Thomas had two TD catches vs. Dolphins last week. ... DE J.J. Watt has eight sacks in last six games. Watt had 2 ½ sacks in only career game at Denver on Sept. 23, 2012. ... DE Jadeveon Clowney has multiple sacks in last two road games. ... S Tyrann Mathieu has sacks in two consecutive games. ... Broncos QB Case Keenum tied for league lead with 10 interceptions. ... Keenum appeared in 10 games for Texans from 2012-14, passing for 2,195 yards with 11 TDs and eight interceptions. ... In four home games this year, Keenum has averaged 279.5 yards passing. ... Rookie RB Phillip Lindsay coming off career-high 95-yard rushing game despite two 20-plus-yard gains wiped out by penalty. Lindsay leads NFL rookies with 531 yards rushing. ... WR Emmanuel Sanders now Broncos' No. 1 option with Thomas traded. Sanders has TDs on rush, receptions and pass this season. ... Rookie WR Courtland Sutton coming off career-best 78-yard game. He'll start with Thomas on Texans. ... LB Von Miller has 5 ½ sacks, six tackles for loss, two forced fumbles and fumble recovery at home this season. ... LB Bradley Chubb named Defensive Rookie of the Month for October. Leads all rookies with seven sacks. ... S Dymonte Thomas had first career sack last week. ... RB Devontae Booker rushed for 78 yards on just nine carries at Kansas City last week. ... Fantasy Tip: Hopkins could be big beneficiary of Thomas' addition, but he'll go up against star CB Chris Harris Jr. this week while Thomas gets to work against lesser CBs.
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