While he was lying on the turf in agony with a broken tibia and doctors rushed to him, Earl Thomas wanted Richard Sherman to know something he thought was important.
Thomas told Sherman how impressed he was with himself for the pass breakup on the play that broke his leg Sunday night during the Seahawks’ 40-7 win over Carolina. A collision with safety Kam Chancellor caused the injury, with Chancellor’s leg smashing into Thomas’ shin.
At halftime, Thomas already knew his leg was broken. But he greeted his teammates entering the locker room at CenturyLink Field with jokes and laughs.
Thomas then posted on Twitter that Chancellor owned him a steak.
Chancellor responded after the victory that no, he owed him three.
Thomas’ light-heartedness was an attempt to address an immediate impact of his injury: the effect on his team’s psyche. Replacing his on-field production is another matter.
“I don’t think you are going to replace Earl Thomas,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He’s a very unique player.”
But replacing Earl Thomas is exactly what the Seahawks now must do. For the rest of this season, if not beyond.
Carroll confirmed Monday that Thomas has a broken left tibia (shin bone) and that there is “no shot” he could return to play this season. That includes the playoffs; Seattle has a three-game lead in the NFC West with four games remaining in the regular season.
“He’s got a serious recovery that he’s going to have to go through — it’s going to take a while,” Carroll said, one day after Seattle’s fourth win in five games.
The coach refused to speculate how long it might be before Thomas could run again. Carroll added he did not know for sure if the 27-year old will need surgery.
Sunday was Thomas’ 119th game played out a possible 120 since Seattle drafted him in the first round in 2010.
“It’s going to take longer (than what’s left in this season),” Carroll said of Thomas’ recovery.
“He seems to be doing OK. He’s handling it. He’s responding like we would like. He’s just trying to deal with it right now.”
The NFC West-leading Seahawks (8-3-1) will now turn to Steven Terrell as they try to clinch the division title over the final four regular-season games. One Seattle victory and one loss by Arizona would do it.
Terrell played the final 41 defensive snaps at free safety on Sunday night. He will replace Thomas there this Sunday at Green Bay (6-6) and beyond.
This weekend will be the second start of Terrell’s four-year career. He started two weeks ago against the Buccaneers when Thomas was sidelined with a hamstring injury. Though he and the secondary gave up two early touchdown passes, they gave up no scores over the final 48 minutes in Florida. Coaches and teammates praised Terrell for his play, his speed and his preparation.
Still … this is Earl Thomas. Out. For a long time.
“I think the experience that Earl has has given him the freedom to see things, make plays, feel confident about making breaks on balls and taking shots at stuff,” Carroll said. “That comes from a lot of success, confidence-building success. You get bold. And Earl has become that kind of a player for us.”
Teammates and coaches can’t and won’t expect Terrell to be so bold.
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers will be the first to test Terrell in the back of the Seahawks’ defense. That’s what Panthers quarterback Cam Newton did on Carolina’s first play after Thomas got hurt. Ted Ginn Jr. caught a 55-yard touchdown pass behind Terrell, linebacker Bobby Wagner and Chancellor for the Panthers’ only score Sunday night.
Thomas’ absence will also test the Seahawks’ psyche.
“You lose one of the best safeties to ever play the game, in my opinion,” quarterback Russell Wilson said. “Earl Thomas, he can do it all. He can run. He can catch. He’s physical coming downhill. He’s one of many heartbeats back there.
“I was able to see Earl in the locker room. Obviously, it’s a devastating thing for him and all of us. But at the end of the day, somebody has to step up. Steven Terrell has done a great job. He’s going to do a great job and step up.
“Earl is going to be great. He’s going to overcome. And he’s going to prevail. … There’s nothing he can’t do. That’s the thing, if it’s going to happen to anyone, which is really unfortunate, he’s the guy that will be able to overcome any situation. He’ll be back and he’ll be stronger than ever. And we’ll do everything we can to win a lot of football games.”
Thomas wasn’t all jokes Sunday night. Minutes after he got carted off the field, and with the game still not half over, he tweeted this:
“This game has been so good to me no regrets.. A lot is running through my mind including retirement thanks for all the prayers.”
Monday, his coach was asked what he thought of that.
“I can’t help you on that. I know that’s really generated a lot of curiosity,” Carroll said.
“He’s going through — at the time, the emotional part of dealing with an injury that’s a serious setback, and so I don’t know much more about it than that.”
FULLBACK ADD WITH EX-HUSKY?
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported the Seahawks were about to sign former Washington Husky Marcel Reece. Reece was a Pro Bowl fullback with the Oakland Raiders in 2012, ’13 and ’14. Oakland released him in September at the age of 31.
Seattle fullback Will Tukuafu is in the league’s concussion protocol, Carroll said. Tukuafu left the win over the Panthers after playing just three snaps.
Seattle is likely to have a roster spot open because Thomas is expected to go on injured reserve this week.
Carroll said Chancellor “got banged” when his leg slammed into his fellow safety. The coach didn’t elaborate, but don’t be surprised if Chancellor gets a practice or two off to rest this week. … Carroll said rookie RG Germain Ifedi probably had his best game against Carolina. Seattle ran for 240 yards, their biggest rushing day in two years. That was after weeks of the coaches saying Ifedi needed to improve footwork and assignments. … The coach again said C Justin Britt’s return after missing the loss at Tampa Bay was huge. “Without question. His factor of the confidence he brings guys, the knowledge and communication…,” Carroll said. “I think it was very clear that getting Justin back was a big deal.” … Carroll said the team is evaluating rookie RB C.J. Prosise’s broken shoulder blade in two-week increments. So the next milestone will be Dec. 19. “That’s to gauge whether or not he’ll be able to make it back, if were fortunate enough to be in the playoffs,” the coach said.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle