Earl Thomas shows why you should never doubt him
Safety’s forced fumble on goal line against St. Louis encapsulates his pursuit of football perfection.
Seattle Times staff reporter
NFC Playoffs, Jan. 10
Arizona, Carolina or Detroit @ Hawks, 5:15 p.m., Ch. 13
What happened when Earl Thomas made his game-changing play:
Score: Seahawks 20, Rams 6
When: 6:05 left in fourth quarter
Where: Third-and-goal from Seattle 6
Rams’ play: Shaun Hill’s short pass to Benjamin Cunningham, who dived for the goal-line marker
Thomas’ play: Knocked the ball out of Cunningham’s grasp, and through the end zone for a touchback.
What it did: Prevented a 20-12 score if Rams had scored, which would have made it a one-possession game,
RENTON — There is something honest about the way Earl Thomas plays football, something that feels almost personal.
He falls on his knees and spreads his arms before games. He celebrates like he won the lottery. He doesn’t just walk on the field; he stalks. His body language tells a story, and there are times when the cameras zoom in close enough to peek behind his facemask and reveal eyes that look in a trance.
In any moment, during any game, it seems like Earl Thomas was meant to play football, and it seems no one knows that more than him.
The manifestation of that — of all the obvious and relentless qualities that make teammates and coaches gush — happened in the fourth quarter against the Rams last week. Momentum was already on Seattle’s side. The Seahawks already led. The game was pretty much over.
And yet, with the Seahawks trying to finish their sixth straight game without giving up a point in the fourth quarter, Thomas made a play that coach Pete Carroll later called “the play of the day.”
Here’s the scene: St. Louis quarterback Shaun Hill in shotgun near Seattle’s goal line. Running back Benny Cunningham to his left. Thomas in the end zone in the middle of the field.
Hill flipped the ball in the left flat to Cunningham, who caught the pass and ran toward the end zone. At the moment Cunningham reached the goal line, Thomas flew into the picture, chopped his hand on the ball and forced a fumble. The ball squirted out of the end zone, by a rule a touchback for the Seahawks, and Thomas threw his hands in the air as teammates swarmed him.
“That play was colossal,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “Use that: It was a colossal play. Not that it would have determined the game. But it just shows who he is as a person and as a player. His effort, his unwavering commitment, his unwavering effort on every play for that last inch until there is only an inch left. I think that’s why he’s one of the best players in the league. I think he’s the best safety in the league, hands down, going away.
“Any time you make any other arguments, you show me players playing at a high level in the playoffs, in big games, then feel free to make that argument. At the end of the day, you are talking about a player that plays at a high level in meaningful games, in big games on a consistent basis. You can’t talk about somebody else other than Earl Thomas. There’s a lot of other players being mentioned in these discussions and talked about, but how many meaningful games are they playing in? Are their teams competing for a championship, or are they going home? Are those players taking their team to the next level and making their teammates better, or are they going home?
“He never gives up. He wouldn’t give up if there were a centimeter left. If there was a bit of energy left in him, he’s going to fight for it. He’s a fighter. He’s a grinder.”
The play Thomas made against the Rams wasn’t just an impressive play athletically. It was a real example of what teammates and coaches have always said about Thomas: That his best traits are his consistency, determination and a burning desire that never gets switched off.
What stands out about the play on second and third glance is the way he reacts to Hill’s body language so quickly. The moment Hill turns his head left to look at Cunningham, Thomas takes off from his post deep in the middle of the field. He didn’t hesitate, didn’t second-guess, and he never stopped running at full speed until he reached the ball.
“He just will not rest until he gets better and he keeps working at it on a daily basis and week to week,” Carroll said. “It’s hugely important to him that he’s growing as a player, and he’s done that. He’s a fantastic aspect of our team.”
Jayson Jenks: 206-464-8277 or email@example.com