Earl Thomas continues streak of post season play
It didn’t matter whether it was his high school team at West Orange-Stark or during his college days with the University of Texas Longhorns and now even at the next level with the Seattle Seahawks of the National Football League, whatever football team Earl Thomas played on has qualified for postseason honors.
With the Mustangs it was the Texas State High School Football Playoffs for four years, with the Longhorns it was some major bowl game for two years and after his Seattle Seahawks upset the St. Louis Rams Sunday night 16-6 in somewhat of a playoff game for the NFC West Division championship, it is now the NFL Playoffs in his rookie season.
The bottom line is that Orange native Earl Thomas has NEVER played on a loser once he got to high school. That trend continued at the University of Texas, but seemed to come to a screeching halt when he was selected by Seattle in the first round of the NFL draft last spring.
The Seahawks started rather strong, with Earl starting at free safety, but then lost seven of their last nine games and stood at 6-9 before Sunday night’s finale against the St. Louis Rams for the AFC West Division title. It was winner goes to the playoffs and the loser goes home.
Almost every “expert” to the man on the Sunday morning NFL pre-game shows picked the one-point-favored Rams to win, despite the game being played at Seattle’s Qwest Field, one of the noisiest and toughest for an opponent to play.
And one would have to credit the “12th Man” at Qwest Field Sunday night for practically driving the Rams nuts with their constant roar the entire game whenever St. Louis had the football.
Ironically, it was the same Seattle defense that had surrendered a whopping 294 points in those last nine games that was responsible for keeping the Rams out of Seattle’s end zone the entire game. And the Seahawks defense completely shut down tailback Steven Jackson, who had already gained 1,196 yards before Sunday.
The Seahawks’ “non-existent pass rush” that was mostly responsible for the seven lop-sided losses the last couple of months, kept St. Louis rookie quarterback Sam Bradford confused and caused him to hurry most of his throws.
Seattle’s rushing game, which was rated dead-last in the NFL and never had a 100 yard rusher this season, came to life Sunday night and really helped back-up quarterback Charlie Whitehurst’s passing game with 141 yards on 35 carries.
Whitehurst hadn’t seen any action all season until starting quarterback Matt Hasselbeck suffered a hip injury in last week’s game and he worked out with the starting offensive team for the first time last week in practice. Actually Sunday night’s start was only Whitehurst’s second as a pro.
But Whitehurst came out firing on Seattle’s opening series and drove his team downfield, connecting on a four-yard touchdown pass which turned out to be the only six-pointer of the game.
All the Rams could muster were two field goals, reducing Seattle’s lead to 7-6 before veteran kicker Olindo Mare booted three second-half three-pointers to insure the 16-6 Seahawks victory.
Thomas was also part of some dubious NFL history as Seattle became the first division champion to have an overall record below .500 at 7-9. But the Seahawks will be hosting the defending World Champion New Orleans Saints (11-5) in the Wild Card Round of the NFL playoffs at Qwest Field Saturday at 3:30 p.m.
Sunday night was probably the first time most Southeast Texas and Southwestern Louisiana fans had a chance to watch Earl Thomas play in an NFL game. He made an outstanding solo tackle on a St. Louis kickoff return in the second half. Saturday’s playoff game against New Orleans will be televised on NBC.
The Indianapolis Colts, who usually have a playoff berth locked up around the 12th game of the season, had to sweat out making the playoffs as the AFC South Division champion.
Ironically, it was our Houston Texans who upset the Colts in the season’s opener in September that started Indy on their bumpy road this year. And it was those same Houston Texans who cleared the path for the Colts to win the division by knocking off Jacksonville Sunday 34-17, handing Indy the South Division title whether the Colts won or lost Sunday.
Although the Texans’ victory was meaningless for the playoff picture, it probably secured Head Coach Gary Kubiak’s job for another season. Team Owner Bob McNair says he wants a “big-name” defensive coordinator and is considering hiring Wade Phillips to replace Frank Bush, who should get fired this week.
Even the Dallas Cowboys came up with a victory Sunday, scoring a touchdown with 55 seconds left when third-string quarterback Stephen McGee from Texas A&M hit tight end Jason Whitten on a four-yard pass to defeat the Eagles in Philadelphia 14-13, although the Eagles sat out several of their regulars in this season finale.
Both the New England Patriots (14-2) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (12-4) will have first-round byes in the AFC playoffs with Indianapolis (10-6) hosting the New York Jets (11-5) Saturday at 7 p.m. on NBC and West champion Kansas City (10-6) entertaining the Baltimore Ravens (12-4) Sunday at noon on CBS.
Besides the Seahawks-Saints game in the NFC Philadelphia (10-6) welcomes the wild card Green Bay Packers (10-6) Sunday at 3:30 p.m. on Fox while the Atlanta Falcons (13-3) and the Chicago Bears (12-4) enjoy first-round byes.
KWICKIES…Although the Houston Texans had a disappointing 2010 season at 6-10, they had some very notable accomplishments. Undrafted running back Arian Foster led the NFL in several categories including the rushing title with 1,616 yards, total yards from scrimmage (2,220), rushing touchdowns (16), total touchdowns (18) and first downs made (121). Port Arthur native Jamaal Charles of Kansas City was second with 1,467 yards. Quarterback Matt Schaub had the fourth-most passing yards in the NFL this season with 4,370, trailing San Diego’s Philip Rivers (4,710), Indianapolis’ Peyton Manning (4,700) and New Orleans’ Drew Brees (4,620).
New England quarterback Tom Brady enjoyed a record-breaking season in 2010. Some of the NFL marks he set included 28 consecutive regular-season wins at home as a starting quarterback, 335 straight passes without an interception, nine games with at least two touchdown passes and no interceptions.
Cleveland’s Eric Mangini was the first of perhaps many NFL head coaches to feel the ax fall on his job. Mangini was canned Monday morning. John Fox is probably gone at Carolina and won’t be able to enjoy getting the first pick in this year’s NFL draft. It appears that Houston’s Gary Kubiak and Dallas Cowboy’s Jason Garrett are safe for now and maybe even San Diego’s Norv Turner. We’re not so sure about New York Giants’ Tom Coughlin, Cincinnati’s Marvin Lewis, Oakland’s Tom Cable or Tennessee Titans’ Jeff Fisher.
JUST BETWEEN US…We neglected last week for the first time in 45 years to wish all of our loyal readers a HAPPY NEW YEAR. So accept a belated one this time.