Earl Thomas has adventurous first game as Seahawks’ punt returner
Seahawks free safety Earl Thomas returned punts against Green Bay on Thursday. His second attempt resulted in a fumble that set up the Packers’ first touchdown.
Seattle Times staff reporter
If there was any mystery about whether Earl Thomas would be Seattle’s punt returner, it ended when he dropped deep to receive a Green Bay kick after the first possession of the Seahawks’ victory Thursday.
It was the beginning of what turned out to be an eventful game returning punts for Thomas.
The first one went well enough. He caught it for a 3-yard gain, though he took a big hit as he did.
But his second return ended in disaster. Thomas fumbled as he caught the ball while being hit by Green Bay’s Davon House.
Thomas protested that he had been interfered with, but officials ruled that House had been blocked into Thomas by teammate Richard Sherman.
The ball was recovered by Green Bay at the 34 and the Packers drove for their only touchdown of the first half.
Thomas told coach Pete Carroll that “he felt like he did not get a clean shot at catching the ball.’’
Carroll, though, said Thomas probably should have exercised more caution trying to make a play in traffic.
“He really should have fair caught the ball on both of those,’’ Carroll said. “He’s so aggressive, he got vulnerable that second time and he got pounded that first time, too. So we will keep working on it and get better.’’
Said Thomas: “I was really just being me. Being aggressive and playing with no fear. I can’t control what happened.’’
Sherman, meanwhile, said he thought that House should have been called for a penalty. “He hit him before the ball got there,’’ Sherman said. “That’s usually a penalty but in this game it wasn’t.’’
Lane reinjures groin
One question for Seattle heading into the week was the health of cornerback Jeremy Lane, who missed the final exhibition game against the Raiders with a groin injury.
Lane was limited in practice but was able to start the game against the Packers as the Seahawks began in a nickel defense, using a fifth defensive back.
Lane, though, left the game after the first Green Bay offensive play of the third quarter when he reinjured his groin on the play on which Byron Maxwell intercepted a tipped pass.
Lane did not return, which forced the Seahawks to use newly acquired Marcus Burley in nickel situations. The Seahawks received Burley in a trade with Indianapolis on Saturday for a 2015 sixth-round pick.
Of Burley, Carroll said it was “a nice job jumping in there within a week’s time to play for us. ... It was really cool to see Burley get in there and get some plays, particularly if Jeremy’s not able to make it back (next week). That will help us.’’
Seattle suffered no other apparent injuries, Carroll said.
Walter Jones honored
Former Seahawk Walter Jones, who was inducted into the Hall of Fame last month, was honored by the team at halftime.
Jones played for only the Seahawks in a career that spanned from 1997 through 2009 and is often considered among the best left tackles of not only his generation, but NFL history.
Jones was presented with his Hall of Fame ring during the ceremony.
Also present for the ceremony were the two other players who are in the Hall of Fame and spent their entire careers with the Seahawks — defensive tackle Cortez Kennedy and receiver Steve Largent.
The three raised the 12th Man flag before the game.
Seahawks take advantage
Green Bay starting right tackle Bryan Bulaga and tight end Richard Rodgers were hurt on the same play in the second quarter, caught in a pile with each other. Bulaga left with a knee injury and Rodgers a neck injury.
Bulaga was unable to return, though the injury was deemed afterward as not significant, and Seattle took advantage of his backup, fourth-year player Derek Sherrod, on two key plays in the third quarter.
First, when Green Bay decided to go for it on fourth-and-four at the Seattle 41, Cliff Avril blew past Sherrod to sack Aaron Rodgers.
On Green Bay’s next offensive snap, Michael Bennett sped by Sherrod to hit Rodgers and force a fumble that Sherrod recovered in the end zone for a safety to put Seattle ahead 22-10.
Bennett said later that even with Bulaga, Seattle would have had the same success.
• Bruce Irvin, who had hip surgery in the spring and had not practiced until this week, made good on his vow to see action and played extensively. He played almost solely at defensive end.
• The team did not have individual player introductions beforehand due to the timing of the pregame ceremony to reveal the Super Bowl banner.