January 01, 2015

RENTON, Wash. (AP) The interceptions are down for Earl Thomas. Same for the number of passes Thomas broke up this season and the free safety's total tackles.

What remains the same is a presence that makes it difficult to challenge the Seahawks deep down the middle of the field.

''He has been more consistent than he has ever been. He's been at his best,'' Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. ''As it happens you know, when you gain the notoriety and the respect is demonstrated by the fact the ball doesn't go your way, he doesn't see much but that's a big, big plus for us. That means that post routes and seam routes don't happen again. That's huge because that's how people score the most in the league with the throwing game. So he's been a huge factor.''

As a whole, Seattle's secondary has lacked some of the flash that made it stand out during last season's title run. There has been less opportunity for Thomas, Richard Sherman and the rest of Seattle's defensive backs to be in the spotlight because teams were less willing to take chances throwing against them. The Seahawks led the NFL with 28 interceptions last season. This season, that number plummeted to just 13.

But a core element of Seattle's defense is not giving up big plays and much of that can be attributed to Thomas. The Seahawks gave up just 32 completions of 20 or more yards this season, the fewest in the NFL. They also led the league in fewest runs of 10 or more yards allowed. While fellow safety Kam Chancellor gets attention for his run support, Thomas is often the one cleaning up any ball carriers that slip through.

Thomas' season could be encapsulated by one play in the season finale against St. Louis. With the Seahawks holding a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, Rams quarterback Shaun Hill threw in the flat to running back Benny Cunningham at the 6-yard line. Cunningham was briefly slowed by Byron Maxwell at the 2, allowing time for Thomas to come from 10 yards away and get in on the tackle. But instead of just trying to stop the runner short of the goal line, Thomas chopped at Cunningham's arm. The move knocked the ball free from Cunningham and out of the end zone for a touchback.

The forced fumble kept Seattle's streak intact of not giving up any fourth-quarter points in the final six games. And it drew raves from his teammates.

''I thought it was the biggest play of the game,'' defensive end Michael Bennett said. ''That was one of those plays, most people would just let a guy run into the end zone and just say, `We're already in the playoffs, we don't need to do that. This play doesn't even matter.' But the mindset Earl has every weekend is intensity and his approach to the game is second to none. For him to make that strip was just amazing.''

But when asked to describe that play on Thursday, Thomas gave a collective shrug. He didn't see anything special about his third forced fumble of the season.

''I think that play just represents all the tackles that I make. They kind of look like that but people don't see it. But I guess that was something that everyone had to pay attention to,'' Thomas said. ''I knew what was coming. I had a good feel, I was in a rhythm and I was just mirroring the QB. Once I get in a mirror like that I'm in sync and it's hard to stop what I'm trying to do.''

---

Online:

AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP-NFL

You May Like