Early in the second quarter of the Seattle Seahawks’ 40-7 win over the Carolina Panthers, Earl Thomas III was forced out of action with a season-ending tibia fracture.
Earl was doing what he does best on the play when he made a terrific break on a pass over the middle of the field. As No. 29 tried to come down with the interception, he collided with teammate Kam Chancellor in mid-air. The tough-as-nails safety attempted to get up after the collision but it was evident that he couldn’t put any pressure on his left leg.
“I felt bad because I was part of that, just running into him. But it’s football, accidents happen. You can’t really tell where people are, we’re both trying to make the play. It’s hard to see your brother go down like that. Somebody you care about dearly, somebody you came into the league with, somebody you look at like a brother. All I can do is send my prayers to him and keep checking on him and help him fight this battle,” Chancellor said.
After being helped to the sidelines, Thomas was eventually carted to the locker room and X-rays revealed shortly after that he had sustained a fractured tibia. With Earl done for the season, No. 29’s teammates know the elite skillset that Earl possesses can’t be replaced.
“You can’t make up for it. You just try to find someone who can do half of what [Thomas] does. It’s hard to replace a great player, a Hall of Fame-type player. You can’t replace those, you’ve got to fit it where you fit in,” defensive end Michael Bennett said.
Head coach Pete Carroll emphasized that the team will miss having Earl on the field immensely, but he remained optimistic about safety Steve Terrell’s ability to come in and fill the void left by the always reliable Thomas.
“Earl’s been a fixture here for a long time. He had missed two games in his life playing football. We’re going to miss him enormously. Like I said, Steve Terrell knows how to play the game. He knows what we’re doing, he knows how to give us what we’re looking for, and he’s played very well. We’re all going to miss the heck out of Earl because we love having that guy back there, but we don’t get to. Steven will step up and we’ll count on him to come through for us.”
The night started off rough for Terrell, and the first play after Thomas left the game Cam Newton took advantage. He connected with Ted Ginn Jr. on a deep pass for a 55-yard touchdown right in Area 29. But the backup safety got more comfortable as the game went on, and the Hawks D went on to stifle the reigning NFC Champions.
Defensively, Seattle prevented Carolina from mustering much of anything on offense. Newton and Co. finished with a total of 271 yards, but 50 of those came on the last drive of the game with Seattle leading by 33 points. As a team, the Panthers only rushed for 89 yards and Newton was just 14 of 33 passing for 182 yards.
After the convincing victory, Richard Sherman was asked by ESPN.com’s Sheil Kapadia about what Thomas said to him when he was laying on the field after the injury. Sherman’s response gave us a glimpse into the competitive nature of the All-Pro safety.
“He said, ‘That was a hell of a break by me,’ “Sherman explained. “And it was. It was a perfect break. He said, ‘I read that.’ That’s Earl being Earl. He wasn’t talking about the injury at all. He said he read that play. He was waiting on that. And he made a play.”
Russell Wilson was asked after the game what it would mean not having a guy like Earl patrolling the Legion of Boom for an extended period of time. Even though it’s well understood in the locker room that no one can flat out replace one of the best safeties in the NFL, the Seahawks quarterback stressed that somebody has to step up in ET’s absence down the stretch.
“You lose one of the best safeties to ever play the game, in my opinion. Earl Thomas, he can do it all. He can run, he can catch, he’s physical coming downhill. He’s one of many heartbeats back there. I was able to see Earl in the locker room, obviously it’s a devastating thing for him and all of us, but at the end of the day, somebody has to step up,” Wilson said.
Wilson continued to say that he’s confident that Thomas will overcome this adversity and return from the injury stronger than ever.
“Earl is going to be great, he’s going to overcome and he’s going to prevail. Obviously it’s a process and there’s nothing he can’t do. That’s the thing, if it’s going to happen to anyone, which is really unfortunate, he’s the guy that will be able to overcome any situation. He’ll be back and he’ll be stronger than ever and we’ll do everything we can to win a lot of football games.”