Earl Thomas was exactly where he feared he’d end up while he held out and feuded with the Seahawks: on crutches. Out for the season.
Russell Wilson leaned down to him to share a quiet word. Then the three-time All-Pro hopped on the metal sticks through the same locker room in which Richard Sherman couldn’t walk after tearing his Achilles and playing his last game for the Seahawks last fall. The same room in which Kam Chancellor also began realizing his Seattle career, his NFL career, was likely over, too, because of a career-ending neck injury.
“It just sucks,” Seahawks defensive end Frank Clark said in one corner of it.
The Seahawks hugged Thomas on Sunday like they did Sherman in the visiting locker room of Arizona’s stadium in November. Like they did Chancellor that same night.
“It’s so bittersweet,” Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. “We just turned everything around and everything was going in a positive direction. It breaks my heart that we’re talking about this right now.”
Oh, the game? Sunday’s victory, 20-17 over the winless Cardinals on Russell Wilson’s rallying drive to Sebastian Janikowski’s redemptive field goal from 52 yards on the final play to get to 2-2 on the season?
“It’s crazy to think about it. Last time it was Kam and Sherm. It’s crazy to think about now, it’s Earl, in this game,” Seahawks All-Pro linebacker Bobby Wagner said.
“I’m definitely praying for him.”
Nothing was more memorable, impacting and longer-lasting than the stunned emotion of seeing one if their legendary cornerstones to the Legion of Boom secondary, a Super Bowl champion, out and maybe gone forever.
This—a potentially long-term injury while lacking guaranteed money beyond 2018, the final year of his Seahawks contract—is precisely why the 29-year-old Thomas held out and stayed away from the only NFL team he’s known from January into this month. He wanted contract money guaranteed as soon as possible.
Before Sunday happened.
“Oh, man,” safety partner Bradley McDougald, the man whose replaced Chancellor, said. “To see his season get ended short like that, it’s just a heartbreaker.”
Thomas got hurt and broke teammates’ hearts diving over Arizona’s Chad Williams in the end zone after Williams caught a tying touchdown pass with 9 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Nine fellow Seahawks, led by fellow All-Pro Bobby Wagner, each took one knee and held hands in a circle around Thomas while a team doctor and trainer put an air cast over his left leg. The same leg he broke cleanly in December 2016, crashing into Chancellor trying to intercept a pass against Carolina.
As the cart took Thomas off the field injured, he sat on the back of it. He raised his right hand in the direction of the Seahawks’ sideline across the field. And he unmistakably extended his middle finger at his team.
That could be his last act as a Seahawk.
“That’s the crazy part of our business,” said Wagner, who publicly supported Thomas’ holdout all summer, and the need for NFL defensive players to have guaranteed contracts. “If he doesn’t come, then he’s not a team player. If he does come and gets hurt, it’s, he shouldn’t have come.
“It’s a position we get put in, often. It’s an unfortunate situation. I think that’s why you have to be able to play football, and to handle the business side of the game.
“If I was him, I’d be pissed off, too.”
Carroll said he didn’t notice Thomas flipping off his sideline. It happened while the Cardinals were lining up to kick the tying extra point.
“It’s a big stadium,” Carroll said coyly, trying to suggest Thomas’ digit was aimed elsewhere in the cavernous dome.
The Seahawks should have lost this, as well as Thomas and rookie tight end Will Dissly. The impressive former University of Washington defensive lineman left in the first quarter with a patellar injury in his right knee after he had a 5-yard catch. He could be out a long time, too.
After Thomas’ injury and bird, the other Birds drove from 7:11 left in the game to 1:55 remaining, running the ball and setting up for Phil Dawson to make the go-ahead field goal from 45 yards. But Dawson missed, one of four misses Sunday between him and Janikowski, who have kicked in this league for a combined 38 years.
Wilson then got the chance to do what he and Seattle’s offense usally does best: move in hurry-up mode. Mike Davis capped his career-best 101 yard rushing day on 21 carries filling in for injured Chris Carson with a 13-yard run. Wilson threw to Tyler Lockett for 9 yards. Rookie Rashaad Penny ran for 3. Wilson completed a 6-yard pass to Doug Baldwin, who returned from two games out with a sprained knee and had five catches for 41 yards. The Seahawks got the clock down to 4 seconds and the ball to the Arizona 34.
Then Janikowski atoned for two earlier missed field goals by drilling his final one from 52 yards as time expired.
That’s how the Seahawks were fortunate to get to 2-2 heading into next week’s mammoth task against the rampaging, unbeaten and division-leading Los Angeles Rams at CenturyLink Field.
Davis ran for the first two touchdowns of his four-year NFL career. Penny added another 49 yards rushing. Wilson was 19 for 26 passing for 172 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions.
They missed field goals. Their best offensive lineman allowed a sack—on a fourth and 1. They didn’t convert a third down, 0 for 10.
Wilson won for the 75th time as Seahawks quarterback, passing Matt Hasselbeck for most wins (regular season and playoffs) as a Seahawks quarterback.
Even when the Seahawks tied the game at 10 in the third quarter, it squandered more.
Wilson ran a read-option keeper for one of the fisrt times this season, 2015 style, for 10 yards. Then on fourth and 1 Penny ran 15 yards off left tackle on an inside-zone run. Seattle was at the Arizona 14 poised to take the lead. But on the next play right guard D.J. Fluker stepped quickly and far left on what was supposed to be a toss left outside to Penny. Wilson fell down while making the pitch, and the ball flopped at Penny’s feet. The rookie recovered the ball, but for a 9-yard loss. That ruined the 14-play drive.
Janikowski salvaged three points with his first field goal make in three tries Sunday, and the game was tied.
The Seahawks wholly earned their 10-7 deficit in an ugly first half that suggested both of these teams aren’t even in the same planet as the Rams.
Seattle easily could have been leading 17-3 at the half.
But the 40-year-old Janikowksi missed two field goals to drop to 3 for 6 this season. All 10 of Arizona’s points in the half came after those misses.
Brown allowed Arizona’s Chandler Jones to sack Wilson on fourth and 1 at midfield in the final minute of the first half. Seattle then got lucky that Dawson missed a 50-yard field goal as time expired.
The Seahawks also were fortunate J.J. Nelson dropped a pass from Rosen that should have been a long touchdown. That was after rookie cornerback Tre Flowers handed off what appeared to be zone coverage in the deep middle Thomas. Nelson sprinted right past the six-time Pro Bowl veteran but dropped Rosen’s pass at the Seattle 5-yard line.
The Seahawks started sharply again. By running the ball on offense, again.
Davis started as the lead back because Carson was inactive with a hip injury seven days after his career highs of 32 carries and 102 yards against Dallas. Davis ran on the game’s first three plays, and four of the first five. Davis’ consecutive rushes outside for 7 yards preceded Wilson throwing for 5 yards outside to Dissly. The rookie tight end from the University of Washington had his right knee buckle painfully under him on the tackle to end that reception. He left the field on the back of a motorized cart with a team doctor and did not return.
Wilson then connected with Baldwin in his first game back after missing two weeks with a sprained knee. That gain of 18 set up Davis’ 20-yard touchdown run around left end, with Wilson a lead blocker he didn’t need. Seattle led 7-0 with their second rushing touchdown by a running back in five quarters. That’s twice more than the Seahawks’ backs had all last season.
Davis, the starting back late last season after Carson broke his leg, had 60 yards rushing just 2 minutes into the second quarter. He had three carries for 3 yards for the season entering Sunday.
On the next scrimmage play after Davis’ touchdown, Flowers and McDougald came up hard in run support to meet Cardinals running back David Johnson off left tackle. Flowers forced a fumble McDougald recovered at the Arizona 25-yard line.
But then Brandon Marshall dropped his fourth pass in one game plus one quarter. And Janikowski had his first miss of the half, from 38 yards.
Janikowski said he knew once Dawson missed again with 1:55 left that he was likely to get his chance to win it. Eighteen years in the NFL will give a guy such perspective.
Interesting day for you, eh?
“Yeah, no s**t,” the 40-year-old said. “It’s all mental. I know physical, I know I can kick the ball. But the first half, it was rough.
“It’s always the next kick. You turn the next page. You try to forget about the first ones.
“But it was rough today.”
In so many more ways than one.