Earl Thomas gave the usual qualifier when asked in the locker room Sunday about his performance in the Seattle Seahawks’ season-opening 17-9 loss to Green Bay, saying that he would need to see film to truly assess how he played.
But then he gave something of a declaration.
“I haven’t seen what I put out there yet, but I felt great,” Thomas said. “I felt in rhythm. I understood what was coming.
“I feel like I’m back.”
It has seemed for a while now that the safety is all the way back following a broken left leg that ended his 2016 season and caused the thought of retirement to briefly enter his mind. He didn’t look a step slower or the least bit hesitant in the preseason. He covered sideline to sideline and threw his body around with his usual reckless abandon, leading teammate Bobby Wagner to believe that Thomas came back better than before.
It was more of the same Sunday.
On the Packers’ first possession, Thomas sniffed out a quick throw to Randall Cobb, shot into the flat and made an open-field tackle for no gain. He made a similar play in the second quarter against Jordy Nelson for another one of his 11 tackles, which led all players Sunday. He showed his range on another play in the second quarter when he dived to break up a deep ball down the sideline. Thomas lamented how he couldn’t come down with the interception on that play, saying the ball was knocked out of his hands by the foot of cornerback Justin Coleman.
“I thought Earl was all over the place,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “I thought he played really well.”
Thomas’ importance to the Seahawks’ defense has always been understood, but it was never more evident than the final two months of last season. He had never missed a game since entering the league in 2010 — until he went down temporarily in Week 11 with a hamstring injury and then for good two weeks later. The Seahawks’ defense was not the same, particularly against the pass.
The stats showed it: The Seahawks allowed 5.96 yards per dropback, 7.01 yards per attempt and a passer rating of 77.8 when Thomas was on the field, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Without him, those numbers were 6.76 yards per dropback, 7.77 YPA and a 100.3 passer rating. Seattle also allowed 12 touchdown passes with only one interception without Thomas compared to seven touchdowns and 10 interceptions with him.
All of that underscored the importance of Thomas’ returning to his All-Pro form. It sure looks like he has.
That was apparent during the preseason, but that was the preseason. This was the real deal in Week 1 — against Aaron Rodgers at Lambeau Field. If you’re looking for a silver lining from the Seahawks’ season-opening loss, Thomas’ effort was it.
“Today was my dad’s birthday, so I definitely wanted to get a win for him,” Thomas said. “Other than that, I’m just happy to be back. I’m happy to finish the game healthy. I’m happy to have my speed still, still [be able to] see and be able to make plays against the so-called best quarterback in the league. So I’m excited about going forward.”