How Emmanuel Sanders got to join John Elway in Broncos history

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- The Denver Broncos broke out "SMU Pass Right" on Thursday night for some creativity, some surprise and some much needed big-play pop from wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders to help the Broncos snap a four-game losing streak.

Sanders scored twice -- one receiving touchdown and one passing touchdown -- as the Broncos defeated the Arizona Cardinals 45-10 in State Farm Stadium. It meant Sanders became the first Broncos player to catch a touchdown pass and throw a touchdown pass in the same game since his boss, John Elway, did it in 1986.

"I had to go and apologize to John," Sanders said. "It feels good, it feels good. ... That pass right there. ... What a great call by [offensive coordinator] Bill Musgrave, and we were able to execute it."

Sanders has now run for a touchdown, caught three touchdown passes and thrown for a score over the course of the Broncos' first seven games, making him just the fifth wide receiver since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to pull off that trifecta in the same season. Only six other Broncos players, regardless of position, have pulled off the feat.

Sanders started Thursday night with the touchdown toss. It was first-and-5 from the Arizona 28-yard line during the Broncos' first possession when Keenum took the snap and flipped the ball to Sanders on a play that looked much like Sanders' 35-yard rushing touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens in Week 3 or his 11-yard run against the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 4.

At least that's how the Cardinals played it. But Sanders then pulled up as the Cardinals' defenders lustily pursued him and he threw the ball to rookie wide receiver Courtland Sutton, who made a diving catch in the end zone for the score. The play, "SMU Pass Right," connected the two former SMU Mustangs.

"I'm going to ice my arm, my arm's a little sore," Sanders said with a smile. "I'm having fun out here, right? And that's what it's about, having fun. Having fun and playing football, that's how you win games."

"That play's been on our game plan sheet for about three weeks and the time was appropriate for Billy to call it," Broncos coach Vance Joseph said. "That play had a lot of suction to it, the safety and the corner both bit. ... It was a great catch."

The play ambushed the Cardinals, given linebacker Todd Davis had already returned an interception for a touchdown on the game's second play. Sanders' toss gave the Broncos a 14-0 lead with 8 minutes, 38 seconds still left in the first quarter.

Asked to grade Sanders' form, Keenum offered, tongue firmly in cheek: "It was close there. Court kind of made a great catch there," Keenum said. "I'm just kidding, great throw and a great catch. ... It was awesome. It was a great play."

Keenum and Sanders were at it again early in the second quarter. On a first-and-10 from the Broncos' 36-yard line, the Broncos made things look like it was going to a run left.

But Keenum pulled the ball back from running back Phillip Lindsay, rolled right instead and hit Sanders running without a Cardinals defender within 10 yards of him. Sanders punctuated a score with a front flip over the goal line to finish what was the Broncos' longest pass play of the season.

"[That's] one of the easiest touchdown passes I've ever caught on deep balls," Sanders said.

"Short week, they saw something in the defense they really wanted to exploit," Keenum said. "It was a great design of a play. ... We caught them a little bit. ... Just tried to get it out there far enough for Emmanuel. There weren't many people around."

With 46 receptions in seven games, Sanders needs just one more to equal his total last season, when the Broncos often struggled in the passing game with three different starting quarterbacks while Sanders missed four games with an ankle injury.

"It feels good, man," Sanders said. "I work my butt off. ... I do everything necessary for me to be successful and it feels good to see all that hard work pay off."