Seahawks safety Earl Thomas was at his best, as was the Seahawks’ defense when it mattered. Also, Russell Wilson showed why he’s so dangerous on one critical play in the fourth quarter.
Three observations after the Seahawks rallied for a 26-24 victory over the Falcons on Sunday:
1. Seahawks safety Earl Thomas played his best game of the season.
Maybe this is the best way to describe how Thomas played against the Falcons on Sunday, and it came courtesy of coach Pete Carroll: Thomas looked like he was “on fast forward.”
Thomas crushed receivers coming across the middle, filling the void of injured strong safety Kam Chancellor. But he was especially destructive and versatile on the final drive.
On first down, he applied late pressure on Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan and forced him to throw it away.
On second down, he jarred the ball loose from Falcons receiver Mohamed Sanu with a big hit.
And on fourth down, he teamed with Richard Sherman to break up a deep pass intended for Julio Jones.
It was all there, in those three plays, the Earl Thomas experience: instincts, range, fearlessness. Oh, and he picked off a pass that set up the game-winning field goal.
“It was one of those ‘Angels in the Outfield’ type of plays,” Thomas said. “You didn’t see the angel, but the ball popped right into my hands.”
Thomas played one of his worst games in recent memory in the season opener, and he was so disgusted with himself that he refused to shower. Just, as only he would put it, put on his slippers and hopped in his Rolls-Royce.
Thomas talked about that game Sunday. He’s been so good for so long that even he took his abilities for granted.
“I’m used to, if something breaks, I’m going to stop the bleeding,” Thomas said. “But when they break and I’m out there wobbling and it’s not going my way, you’ve got to take a deep look at yourself in the mirror. You’ve got to keep pushing. You can’t be complacent.”
Thomas didn’t amaze anyone with how he played against the Falcons. He’s way beyond that. But, as Sherman put it later, “He played like Earl Thomas.”
2. The Seahawks’ defense showed the first four games weren’t a fluke.
The issues are pretty clear. The Seahawks had two costly miscommunications that directly led to Atlanta touchdowns, and one of those miscommunications directly led to Sherman’s helmet-slamming tirade on the sideline.
But Atlanta is a good offense. Julio Jones is a great receiver. Matt Ryan had thrown for more yards than any other quarterback this season before Sunday, and the Falcons averaged more points and more yards per game than any team in the NFL.
That was really what this game was: a measuring stick, a way to see if Seattle’s defense was really as good as the numbers said through four weeks. The Seahawks gave up more points and yards than they’d averaged, but they also held the Falcons below their season average in both categories.
The Seahawks drilled Ryan play after play in the first half. They held the Falcons to just 52 yards rushing and 2.9 yards per carry. They forced two turnovers.
They weren’t flawless, and the communication issues have been a problem in the past, but they were still pretty impressive against one of the league’s best offenses.
3. Russell Wilson showed why he’s so lethal in one play.
Wilson had a good game: 270 yards, no interceptions, a few timely runs and impressive throws. But it was one play, late in the game, that revealed what makes Wilson so tough and so icy.
The offense had been struggling all half, and in the fourth quarter, Wilson and Co. needed 2 yards on third down. The Seahawks were at Atlanta’s 42-yard line, still out of field-goal range but in need of a field goal.
The Falcons blitzed, Wilson scrambled to his right, rookie running back Alex Collins blocked and then, at the last second, right as Wilson was about to get hit by not one but two defenders, Collins turned toward Wilson, who flipped a little pass to him. First down.
It really looked like Wilson was not only going to get sacked but strip sacked.
But he didn’t. He got rid of the ball at the last possible moment, an almost impossible sense of timing and feel. It’s what makes him so dangerous.
“You know at big moments he’s going to make a play,” tight end Jimmy Graham said. “Right there, we get a rookie running back, you’ve got two guys pulling him down, and he just kind of lofts it up and gets a first down.”