Baltimore safety Earl Thomas (left) closes in on a sliding Russell Wilson during the Ravens’ 30-16 win over the Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Baltimore safety Earl Thomas (left) closes in on a sliding Russell Wilson during the Ravens’ 30-16 win over the Seahawks on Sunday at CenturyLink Field in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)

Patterson: Thomas’ return to Seattle bittersweet

The safety who helped the Seahawks to their only Super Bowl title returned as an opponent Sunday.

During the first quarter of the Seattle Seahawks’ game against the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday at CenturyLink Field, Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson kept the ball on the read option, found space around the left end, then slid down for a 7-yard gain before the Baltimore player who was sizing him up had a chance to deliver a hit.

It’s Wilson’s modus operandi to give himself up before the defense has a chance to administer any punishment, but no doubt Wilson recognized the No. 29 racing at him and was all too familiar with what that player is capable of doing.

Sunday marked Earl Thomas’ return to Seattle following his break-up with the franchise, and surely no one enjoyed Baltimore’s 30-16 victory more than the Seahawks’ former star free safety.

How good did it feel to Thomas? So much so that he used “really” three times before “good.”

“Today was big, man,” Thomas said after the game. “My teammates have been telling me all week they had my back, and it felt good for them to show up how they did today. It felt so good to get that win, to come here against an MVP-type quarterback, and the defense played the way we played today, man, we’re on the right track.”

And boy, it was weird seeing Seattle’s longtime defensive center fielder wearing purple pants.

Thomas, Seattle’s first-round pick in the 2010 draft, played nine stellar seasons with the Seahawks. He made six Pro Bowls, was named first-team All-Pro three times, and was arguably the most important member of the Legion of Boom defense that led the Seahawks to their first Super Bowl title in franchise history.

In the years I covered the Seahawks I always found Thomas to be one of the most fascinating characters in the locker room. He had this unique combination of intensity and awkwardness when he spoke to the media, and it was clear his mind worked differently than most — a right-brained individual in a left-brained world. I would have loved the opportunity to sit down with him, no recorder or notebook, and explore what made him tick.

But we all had to bid farewell to Thomas following his acrimonious departure. As glorious as his nine years in Seattle were, the final few months were excruciating, with Thomas holding out from training camp and preseason as he sought a contract extension that never came. The last image of Thomas as a Seahawk was of him flipping off the Seattle sideline as he was carted off the field with a broken leg last September in Arizona.

During the offseason Thomas signed a four-year, $55 million deal with the Ravens as a free agent — a contract far beyond anything the Seahawks were willing to offer a player turning 30 who had two of his previous three seasons ended by injury — and his Ravens teammates knew exactly how important this game was for him.

“It definitely meant a lot,” Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey said. “All week we kept saying, ‘Earl, we got you.’ The Seahawks moved on from him, I think everyone knew that they felt like he didn’t have it anymore. It wasn’t a happy go-away, it was more like, ‘You don’t got it anymore, we don’t really want you.’ So we felt like it’s just a game, but for Earl it was a little bit more.”

Therefore, CenturyLink Field was a brave new world for Thomas. It was the first time in his career he lined up on the opposite sideline, the first time he had to endure jeers from the home crowd. But none of it seemed to affect him.

“I felt focused,” Thomas said. “That was my main goal, just come in here and feel focused. I had my juice right.”

He played his role in the victory, notching five tackles and taking away much of the middle of the field as Wilson had his worst passing day of the season.

When Humphrey scooped up DK Metcalf’s fumble and returned it for the back-breaking touchdown in the fourth quarter, Thomas made sure the Seattle sideline knew it.

“You know I’m going to say something,” said Thomas, who wouldn’t reveal what he uttered. “I definitely said a little, what I had to say.”

For their part, the Seahawks had nothing but positive things to say about their former teammate’s return.

“Playing against Earl is fun,” Wilson said. “It’s cool seeing him on the side, I know how much he loves the game. We battled back and forth throughout practice, and then today. So I hold Earl in high regard, man. He played great, he was battling out there, back and forth. Earl’s one of the best ever to do it.”

“Yeah, he was talking,” Seahawks receiver Tyler Lockett acknowledged. “Not talking trash or anything, he was just getting the defense lined up, all that type of stuff, the stuff he did in Seattle, making sure everybody knew what they were doing, knew the adjustments.”

And whatever Thomas may feel about the Seahawks organization or the way his tenure in Seattle ended, he still holds his former teammates in high esteem. After the game was over, Thomas and Wilson met at midfield, and in a mutual show of respect they traded jerseys.

Seeing Thomas leave the field, Wilson’s jersey clutched in his hand, I couldn’t help feeling a touch of regret. Not that Thomas had gotten the best of Seattle in his return, but that Thomas holding Wilson’s No. 3 was probably the closest thing we’ll ever see to him in a Seahawks jersey again.

Follow Nick Patterson on Twitter at @NickHPatterson.

Talk to us

More in Sports

AquaSox’s Travis Kuhn and Emerald’s Ryan Jensen an hour after the game between the two teams on Sunday continue standing in salute to the National Anthem at Funko Field on Sunday, Aug. 25, 2019 in Everett, Wash. (Olivia Vanni / The Herald)
Reports suggest AquaSox may become full-season High-A team

The club would field players further along in their development who are more likely to one day play for the Mariners.

Pittsburgh Steelers linebacker Bud Dupree (48) pushes past Jacksonville Jaguars offensive tackle Cam Robinson (74), left, to sack quarterback Jake Luton (6) during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Nov. 22, 2020, in Jacksonville, Fla. (AP Photo/Gary McCullough)
How local NFL products fared in Week 11

Marysville Pilchuck alum Jake Luton struggles against the league’s last undefeated team.

Seattle Sounders' Nicolas Lodeiro (10) is congratulated on his goal by Jordan Morris (13), who had an assist, during the first half of an MLS playoff soccer match against Los Angeles FC on Tuesday, Nov. 24, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)
Defending champs moving on as Sounders oust LAFC

Seattle opens the playoff with a 3-1 win and advances to face FC Dallas in the Western semifinals.

Washington's Josiah Bronson motions after the team recovered an Arizona fumble during an NCAA college football game Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
UW to face Utah on Saturday after Apple Cup cancellation

The Huskies were able to find a Pac-12 opponent able to play in Seattle this weekend.

Sporting opposing team gear, Lauren Rice and Avery Kirkman, right, enjoy chatting together as Dutch Hill Elementary in Snohomish held an Apple Cup-themed Dads and Donuts event in advance of the 2018 matchup between Washington and Washington State. This year’s Apple Cup, scheduled for Friday, was canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak among WSU players, but it’s possible the annual rivalry contest could be rescheduled. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
POLL: Will the Apple Cup happen this year?

Friday’s football game between UW and WSU was called off, but there’s still hope of rescheduling.

Glacier Peak's Madison Rubino drives around Snohomish's Kaylin Beckman as Snohomish lost to Glacier Peak 50-39 in a non-league girls' basketball game on Monday, Dec. 9, 2019 in Snohomish, Wash. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)
A list of local athletes set to play sports in college

The early signing period for all NCAA sports except football opened Wednesday.

Marysville-Getchell's Malakhi Knight leads a fast break against Wilson Wednesday morning at the Tacoma Dome on March 4, 2020. Marysville-Gethchell lost to Wilson 73-52. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)
WIAA pushes back return to play for prep sports

Season 2 now begins Feb. 1 and seasons have been shortened to seven weeks each.

Washington players run from a purple cloud onto the field before an NCAA college football game against Arizona, in a stadium empty of spectators Saturday, Nov. 21, 2020, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Elaine Thompson)
Apple Cup canceled due to coronavirus concerns at Wazzu

The Cougars lack enough scholarship players because of positive COVID-19 tests and contact tracing.

Seattle Sounders forward Jordan Morris, right, takes a shot in front of LA Galaxy defender Julian Araujo during the first half of an MLS soccer match Wednesday, Nov. 4, 2020, in Carson, Calif. (AP Photo/Ashley Landis)
In uncertain times, Sounders’ constant has been a will to win

The second-seeded team hosts seventh-seeded Los Angeles FC tonight at the newly named Lumen Field.

Most Read