De’Anthony Thomas left his last NFL game on a cart in agony. Sunday, he was hoisted by teammates in joy after a touchdown.
The road back for Thomas is complete. After suffering a broken leg in the regular-season finale at Denver in December, Thomas and the Chiefs plotted a course of recovery that brought him to Sunday’s opener.
“You feel good for somebody who went through what he did,” said Chiefs wide receiver Demarcus Robinson.
Thomas contributed two big plays in the Chiefs’ 38-28 victory over the Chargers.
His touchdown reception concluded the opening drive of the second half. With the Chiefs at the 1, Thomas lined up in the slot on the right side. Patrick Mahomes took the snap, faked a handoff to Kareem Hunt going right, and flipped the ball to Thomas moving left as he crossed paths with Hunt.
By the time the Chargers knew what had happened, Thomas was in the end zone for seventh time in his four NFL seasons. The score gave the Chiefs a 24-12 lead.
Thomas also came up big on special teams. A booming 59-yard punt by Dustin Colquitt had Chargers return man JJ Jones backpedaling. He muffed the punt and recovered it only to have Thomas there to slap it out of his hands.
Center James Winchester fell on the fumble and the Chiefs quickly punched in another touchdown.
Thomas has carved out a role on special teams, and is among the favorites of Dave Toub, who coaches the group. Sunday, Thomas returned two kickoffs for a total of 33 yards to complete his statistical day.
The versatility probably helped Thomas land a spot on the 53-man roster. The Chiefs are deep at wide receiver, and the 5-8, 176-pound Thomas had only 14 receptions last season. There was some speculation he wouldn’t make the team he’s been with since 2014.
Thomas never stopped believing in himself, even after the injury in Denver, which required him to remain in the city and have surgery the following day. He signed a one-year contract extension in March and it was believed at the time he might need continued rehabilitation during the season.
But Thomas put in the hours.
“Just took it one day at a time,” Thomas said. “I trusted my teammates, my coaching staff and training staff for getting me strong.”
He also brought a positive attitude to his recovery period.
“It wasn’t tough at all,” Thomas said. “It was great times, very motivating. I treated every day like it was a Super Bowl. I worked hard, and now it’s great to see everything pan out.”