The cool approach, the one taken by Richard Sherman and Bobby Wagner this week, has been to brush off the snub with a scoff and a so-what.
But Earl Thomas doesn’t do cool. He is fire. About everything.
All the time.
So when asked Thursday about The Associated Press’ 50 voters that left Thomas, Sherman and Wagner off the 2015 NFL All-Pro team, Seattle’s free safety chafed instead of chilled.
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“I was mad,” Thomas said .
Seahawks (11-6) at Panthers (15-1), 10:05 a.m., Sunday, Ch. 13, 710-AM, 97.3-FM
This Seattle team is the first since the 1953-57 Cleveland Browns to lead the league scoring defense for four consecutive regular seasons. Was Thomas mad at Friday’s news because he felt all Seahawks got dissed?
“I was mad individually,” the first-team All-Pro in 2012, ’13 and ’14 said. “They are going to make you work. To get to the Hall, they are going to make you work. That’s what I tell myself.
“I am going to outlast it.”
The “Hall,” of course, is the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. That’s what the 26-year-old Thomas has dedicated just about his every waking moment to, every day, to eventually earn induction.
“This is my passion. This is my gift from God. In everyday life, football is always my top priority,” Thomas said. “Even with my family (he became engaged last summer to long-time girlfriend Nina Heisser; they have a young daughter, Kaleigh Rose), they understand me.”
Athletic legacies, as quarterback Russell Wilson agreed on Thursday, are made in the postseason. So Thomas has a prime chance to further his Canton credentials — and his beef with the AP’s All-Pro voters — on Sunday.
He and safety partner Kam Chancellor will be the focus of top-seeded Carolina’s passing game Sunday in the NFC divisional playoffs. Quarterback Cam Newton, the league’s likely Most Valuable Player, has connected 77 times with tight end Greg Olsen. That’s 33 more than with any other Panthers receiver. Olsen’s average of 14.3 yards per catch was second in the league only to New England’s Rob Gronkowski (16.4).
Olsen has seven touchdown catches this season. That includes Oct. 18 in Seattle when he split Chancellor and Thomas down the middle of the field for the winning, 26-yard touchdown with 26 seconds left. He capped Carolina’s rally from nine points down in the fourth quarter to win.
Thomas and Chancellor were caught in the wrong zone coverage; Sherman was the only Seahawks defensive back in the right one.
For almost an hour after that play, Thomas, Chancellor and Sherman led an impassioned talk in the CenturyLink Field locker room on what went wrong against Olsen.
It’s not a big deal. Somebody’s going to catch the football. We’re a big zone team and guys are going to get the ball.
Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, on the high number of receptions tight ends have had this season
“It was more so our standard,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said Thursday. “There was no excuse for what happened right there.”
Seattle’s secondary has had problems all season against tight ends. It began in the opening loss at St. Louis. Chancellor was holding out. Rams tight end Lance Kendricks beat Chancellor’s fill-in, Dion Bailey, for the tying touchdown in the final seconds of regulation to force overtime.
Cincinnati tight end Tyler Eifert tied his season highs of 12 targets and two touchdowns while catching eight balls for 90 yards to help rally the Bengals from 17 points down to beat Seattle in October.
The only touchdown by woeful San Francisco in two games this season against Seattle? Yes, by a tight end.
During the regular season, the Seahawks allowed 75 receptions by tight ends — an average of nearly five per game — for 873 yards and eight touchdowns.
“It’s not a big deal,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “Somebody’s going to catch the football. We’re a big zone team and guys are going to get the ball.
“We don’t want anybody to overwork us, but sometimes they do.”
And when they have, it’s been damaging, often game-altering. Seattle allowed an average of 11.6 yards per catch to tight ends in the regular season. So usually when one caught a ball on the Seahawks it extended an opponent’s drive.
The key to Sunday’s game — a big reason for the Seahawks allowed just one offensive touchdown during their six-game road winning streak — has been limiting long drives. So if opposing tight ends usually equal first downs, stopping Olsen in Carolina would go a long way to putting the Seahawks in the NFC championship game for the third consecutive January.
11.6 yards per catch Seattle allowed to tight ends in the regular season.
“The quarterback throws it to him as much as he possibly can,” Seattle defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “Whether he’s covered or not, the ball is going there.”
And as safeties, the tight end is primarily the responsibilities of Thomas and Chancellor. Chancellor is usually underneath, in the middle and closer to the line of scrimmage. Thomas plays deeper at the roving center fielder in zone coverages.
Chancellor was already in game-intensity mode before practices Wednesday and Thursday. He politely but clearly declined opportunities to speak about this game each day.
After Thursday’s practice, though, he and linebacker Bobby Wagner playfully interrupted Richard’s media gathering.
So maybe Chancellor just wants to let his play do the talking.
It spoke loudly in this round of the playoffs 12 months ago against Carolina. Chancellor had a game they’ll talk about around Puget Sound until the salmon stop running.
He leaped clear over the Panthers’ long snapper and landed on his feet in the backfield in front of the stunned kicker — twice — on the original snap and then again on a penalty re-try. He banged Mike Tolbert so hard it knocked Carolina’s fullback back 2 yards to deny the Panthers a first down.
Then, with Newton driving the Panthers into the red zone down 24-10 with 6 minutes left, Chancellor intercepted his pass and ran 90 yards the other way for the longest touchdown in Seahawks’ postseason history. That sealed Seattle’s home playoff win and trip back to the NFC title game.
Chancellor missed the final 3 1/2 games of the regular season with a bruised pelvis. He returned last weekend in the Seahawks’ 10-9 playoff escape at arctic Minnesota and had a huge fourth quarter. While teammate K.J. Wright tackled Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, the strong safety ripped the ball out of Peterson’s left arm. Defensive tackle Ahtyba Rubin recovered the fumble. Seattle turned the turnover into Steven Hauschka’s go-ahead field goal.
But on Minnesota’s final drive to what should have been the winning field goal Chancellor got called for pass interference bumping into tight end Kyle Rudolph. That moved Minnesota into Seattle territory . Then Chancellor missed a tackle on Rudolph after a catch, putting the Vikings in field-goal range.
Kicker Blair Walsh missed the 27-yard kick in the final seconds.
“Blessed,” Chancellor said after the game.
Inexplicably, given Seattle’s problems against tight ends this season, those were the only times the Vikings targeted their tight end and top touchdown receiver. That last drive was their best of the game.
Newton and the Panthers won’t make the mistake of ignoring Olsen. And the Seahawks, especially Thomas and Chancellor, know it.
“We’re going to be out there,” Thomas said confidently, as always. “They’ve got to deal with us just like we’ve got to deal with them.”
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle
Production by tight ends vs. Seahawks this season:
Catches per game: 4.7
Yards receiving: 873
Yards per game: 54.6