The Seahawks beat the Cardinals, but lost two starters in a weird game that saw Sebastian Janikowski go from goat to hero after missing two field goals early but making a game-winning field goal at the end.
GLENDALE, Ariz. — Music blared and handshakes and hugs were shared — all the usual postgame trappings of an NFL team celebrating a hard-fought and desperately-needed win.
Then Earl Thomas hobbled into the middle of the Seattle locker room on crutches, his lower left leg heavily wrapped, and anybody who might have momentarily forgotten the cost of this victory received a brutal dose of reality.
“Yeah, we got the (win),’’ said defensive end Frank Clark. “But I feel like we’re the losers at the end of the day because we lost a Hall of Fame player. We lost a player you can’t replace. … It’s Earl Thomas, let’s be honest.’
It was the second consecutive year the Seahawks departed Arizona with a victory — this one dramatic as could be with Sebastian Janikowski hitting a 52-yard field goal as time ran out to put Seattle up 20-17 — but left largely lamenting what had been lost along the way.
Thomas suffered a fractured lower left leg with 8:59 left in the game, a play that almost certainly ends his season and potentially — if not probably — his Seahawks career. It was one of two likely season-ending injuries for Seattle in the game as tight end Will Dissly suffered a patellar tendon injury in the first half and also is likely done for the year.
A year ago on the same field, it was Richard Sherman (Achilles) and Kam Chancellor (stinger) who suffered injuries that ended their Seattle careers, an unhappy coincidence no one could avoid afterward.
“It’s crazy to think about,’’ said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “Last game it was Kam and Sherman and it’s crazy for it to be Earl in this game.’’
Thomas added to the melancholy of the situation by flashing a middle finger in the direction of the Seattle sideline as he was carted off, a likely reference to his unhappiness over having not gotten a contract extension but returning to action only to now suffer a significant injury that makes his future uncertain.
Coach Pete Carroll tried to create some doubt about Thomas’ gesture, saying, “It’s a big stadium. It could be anyone it was aimed at.’’
Though Thomas did not talk to reporters after the game, teammates had no question what was on his mind at the time.
“Earl wanted an extension and at the end of the day he didn’t get that and it sucked,’’ said Clark. “It sucks to see a guy who, like I said, puts his all into something, puts his all into his team and he doesn’t get what he deserves.’’
Thomas was injured on a play that helped Arizona tie the game on a 22-yard pass from rookie quarterback Josh Rosen to Chad Williams. Thomas appeared to get hurt as he dove over Williams while trying to make a play on the ball. His left leg appeared to kick Williams’ body.
Thomas broke that same leg in a 2016 game against Carolina that also ended his season, and he appeared to know immediately he had suffered a similar injury. An NFL Network report stated the break was clean and there was no ligament damage but that the earliest Thomas could return would be the Super Bowl.
“He was just so aware of what happened,’’ said Carroll. “He just knew exactly what had taken place.’’
The Seahawks seemed stunned by the touchdown and injury, and went three-and-out on their next drive. Arizona took over at its own 24 with 7:11 left and converted a pair of third downs to move to the Seattle 27 and set up for a potential 45-yard Phil Dawson go-ahead field goal.
But as was fitting for a game that featured four missed field goals, at least four dropped passes by Arizona and just general inartfulness all around, Dawson misfired, the ball sailing wide right.
The Seahawks took over at their own 35 and used a 13-yard run by Mike Davis and two Russell Wilson completions to Doug Baldwin and Tyler Lockett to set Janikowski up for a 52-yarder with four seconds remaining.
The 40-year-old missed kicks of 38 and 52 yards in the first half. But his final shot at redemption was true as could be, sending the Seahawks into a celebration that Carroll thought was as emotional as any he’s seen in his long coaching career.
“It was because of what had also occurred to the other guys,’’ said Carroll, who twice used the term “bittersweet’’ to describe the day.
“I was already emotionally messed up because of that,” Carroll said. “I don’t know what I was doing when you saw me at the end but I was already kind of half-wrecked because of the guys getting hurt.’’
Carroll said he felt even more conflicting emotions because he said the team and Thomas had come to something of a truce this week after Thomas sat out two practices the previous week while saying he wanted to protect himself with his contract situation uncertain. Thomas was given a rest day Wednesday, but listed as a full participant in practice Thursday and Friday.
“We just turned everything around and everything was going in a positive direction,’’ Carroll said. “It breaks my heart that we’re talking about this right now.’’
The Seattle defense struggled mightily without Thomas in 2016, allowing 34 or more points in two of the four games he missed and going 2-3 in the five games he sat out. Seattle went 1-1 without Thomas last season, one of the victories coming in Arizona.
That Seattle at least got the victory means the Seahawks can point to the home game next Sunday against the Rams as a chance to get back into the division race. But the game in Arizona nonetheless exhibited all kinds of warts — Seattle somehow won despite going 0 for 10 on third down.
And now the Seahawks likely will have to play the rest of the season without one of the top safeties in pro football history.
Second-year player Tedric Thompson — who spent most of the preseason working as the starting free safety while Thomas held out — likely will start at free safety alongside strong safety Bradley McDougald.
“You can’t just replace (Thomas) with an individual,’’ Clark said. “It’s going to be a big challenge on that man coming in to do everything he can, to fill that gap.’’
The question no one really wanted to answer was whether Thomas had indeed played his last snap as a Seahawk, doing so on the same field that ended the Seahawks careers of Sherman and Chancellor, and on the same field where the legacy of the Legion of Boom was altered forever in 2015 when a second consecutive Super Bowl title fell one yard and one interception short.
“I hope it’s not his last game,’’ Wagner said. “I hope we can bring him back. We had a lot of great years together. I don’t think you’re ever going to find another player like him. I’ve said that enough. His speed, his intelligence, the way he plays the game. You’ll never see it again.’’