DANNY ONEIL

With Earl Thomas’ injury, Seahawks lose the free spirit of their defense

Dec 4, 2016, 10:41 PM
Earl Thomas said Tuesday that he is "caught in between" retiring and returning to the Seahawks. (AP...
Earl Thomas said Tuesday that he is "caught in between" retiring and returning to the Seahawks. (AP)
(AP)

The Seahawks’ most lopsided win since the only Super Bowl victory in franchise history might not turn out to be the most meaningful result from Sunday.

That’s not to diminish the importance of Seattle’s 40-7 victory, but to recognize the significance of the broken leg that free safety Earl Thomas suffered when he collided with teammate Kam Chancellor in the second quarter.

“It was very unfortunate,” coach Pete Carroll said. “He ran into Kam, and Kam’s made of steel. It’s going to hurt, and it sure did.”

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It hurt Thomas, who was knocked out of a game because of injury for only the second time in his career. That both of those games have come in the past three weeks gives you an idea of how star-crossed this season is starting to feel in Seattle.

It will also hurt the Seahawks, who will be without one of their most important players for the rest of this regular season at the very least, and most likely until next year.

Thomas did not miss a game for six and a half seasons after entering the league. He started 106 consecutive regular-season games, which is a franchise record. That was simply remarkable because we’re talking about a guy who was small even by the standards of his own position. He stands 5 feet 10, a hummingbird who weaves his way among grizzly bears.

There’s not a player with more range than Thomas, but it wasn’t just that. The Seahawks free safety is also their free spirit. Kam Chancellor is the heart of this defense, Richard Sherman its spokesman, but it was the wide-eyed, heat-seeking missile at the back of the secondary who embodied both the confidence and the instincts in this Seahawks defense.

And now Seattle must play the rest of this season without him.

Carroll didn’t say the injury was season-ending, but conceded that it would be six weeks at the very least. That doesn’t leave much hope for this season.

How does a coach keep that sort of news from deflating his entire team?

“The truth,” Carroll said. “Going right back to the truth.”

That will be what he talks about on Monday when the team meets at noon.

“He can’t play now,” Carroll said of Thomas. “We have to move ahead. Our guys are very mature about stuff like this. They’ll handle it. They’ll miss the heck out of him, but they immediately will start pulling for Stevey to do his thing.”

That would be Steven Terrell, who will now be asked to fill one of the toughest job descriptions in the league.

“They know that’s the way it has to go,” Carroll said. “I think these guys are mature. They love the kid and they care about him, but they also know that this is part of things that happen.”

There are no silver linings to this story. No bright side and not really any sort of deeper meaning other than the inherent unpredictability of injuries in football. There’s an even more ominous question since Thomas sent a Tweet just before halftime saying that he had so many things going through his mind, even retirement.

Carroll said he spoke to Thomas in the training room at halftime, and while the coach said he couldn’t speak to anything Thomas said, he also knows the emotional nature of his player.

“He’s OK,” Carroll said. “He’s going to be all right. I’m not surprised that he said something like that. Earl’s apt to go ahead and say something that might surprise you. And he did.”

Now we’re all going to have to wait and see how big this loss is for Seattle not just this year, but going forward.

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With Earl Thomas’ injury, Seahawks lose the free spirit of their defense