BRADY HENDERSON

With pass-breakups, key INT, Seahawks’ Earl Thomas delivers vintage performance

Oct 17, 2016, 6:05 AM | Updated: 9:18 am
Earl Thomas' fourth-quarter interception set up the Seahawks' game-winning field goal. (AP)...
Earl Thomas' fourth-quarter interception set up the Seahawks' game-winning field goal. (AP)
(AP)

Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman gave Earl Thomas maybe the best compliment he could have when asked how Seattle’s free safety played Sunday.

“I thought he played a fantastic game,” Sherman said. “I thought he was on course, he made some phenomenal hits.

“He played like Earl Thomas.”

Indeed, Thomas looked like his usual, All-Pro self during the Seahawks’ 26-24 win over Atlanta, which is to say that he was all over the place in a good way. Thomas broke on a Matt Ryan pass and delivered a perfectly-time hit to break up what would have been a completion to Mohamed Sanu on the Falcons’ first possession. He did it again at the end of the first half, hitting Taylor Gabriel just as the ball arrived. And in the fourth quarter, he helped set up what turned out to be Seattle’s game-winning field goal when he came down with an interception on a tipped pass.

Thomas often characterizes his play in terms of rhythm. When he’s playing in rhythm, he’s playing well. When his rhythm is off, so is his game.

Coach Pete Carroll had a different way of describing Thomas on Sunday.

“I thought Earl had a great game,” Carroll said. “He made some great breakups. He just looks like he’s full speed, on fast-forward kind of the whole time.”

Thomas has become arguably Seattle’s most important defensive players largely because of the plays he prevents, whether it’s breaking up passes like he did in this game or discouraging them from even being attempted in the first place. He also made a big one himself Sunday.

The Falcons were driving with just under 4 minutes left and a one-point lead when they attempted a first-down throw over the middle, a somewhat curious decision with Seattle down to its final timeout. Ryan’s pass to Julio Jones went off the receiver’s hands and then was tipped by Sherman. Thomas, in the right place seemingly the entire afternoon, was there to corral the ball after a brief bobble for his second interception in as many games.

He returned it 5 yards, giving the Seahawks the ball at midfield. Seven plays later, Steven Hauschka kicked a 44-yard field goal to put Seattle ahead for good.

Turns out, strong safety Kam Chancellor predicted the whole sequence, or pretty close to it. Out Sunday with a groin injury, Chancellor looked Carroll in the eye on the sideline and told him how it would all go down.

“He said they were going to throw the ball, we’re going to tip it up in the air,” Carroll recalled. “I don’t think he said Earl was going to catch it, but he said we’re going to catch it and then Hauschka is going to go down there and get the winning kick. He called the whole thing.”

Thomas called it “one of those ‘Angels in the Outfield’ type plays where you didn’t see the angel, but the ball popped right into my hands.“

Thomas hasn’t always looked like himself this season, particularly in the opener when he whiffed on several tackles and appeared to be the guilty party on a defensive breakdown. He was so out of sorts afterward that he left the stadium without showering.

He looked more like Earl Thomas on Sunday.

“He had an amazing game,” cornerback DeShawn Shead said. “That’s why he’s Earl Thomas, one of the best to ever play this game.”

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With pass-breakups, key INT, Seahawks’ Earl Thomas delivers vintage performance