In what should have been the game that re-solidified the Seattle Seahawks as the most dangerous team in the NFL, they were dealt a crushing blow -- literally -- to the left leg of safety Earl Thomas. As Thomas collided with teammate Kam Chancellor midair early in the second quarter on Sunday night versus the Carolina Panthers, a bone in his tibula was broken and shortly later, the hopes of many Seahawks fans as the enigmatic All-Pro tweeted out that retirement had been running through his mind.
This game has been so good to me no regrets.. A lot is running through my mind including retirement thanks for all the prayers.- Earl Thomas (@Earl_Thomas) December 5, 2016
But we should not be as hasty as Earl was.
Remember, this was a statement sent out less than hour from when the injury occurred. Thomas, who had never missed so much as a snap due to injury during his seven-year career until two weeks ago, was no doubt getting the news that his season was likely over and that he'd be watching the rest of Seattle's games as a bystander rather than as a player. Regardless of whether or not Thomas does decide to call it quits or not, we can be almost certain that he won't play again in 2016 (even though coach Pete Carroll did not give a timeline for Thomas' return after the game).
The good news for Seattle fans is that the Seahawks beat Carolina, 40-7, scoring 40 points for the first time since their Super Bowl XLVIII win over the Denver Broncos. It improved the team to 8-3-1 and kept Seattle in second place in the NFC with four games to go. With a win next week over the Green Bay Packers and an Arizona Cardinals loss to the Miami Dolphins, the Seahawks will win the NFC West for the fourth time in the Carroll era.
Above all else, if Seattle takes care of business over the next four weeks, they can do no worse than the number two seed and a bye week. Given that the team with the best chance to ruin those plans is the Detroit Lions, who has a schedule that includes games on the road against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys, plus a season finale against the Packers, it seems more likely than not that the Seahawks will get a top two seed. That's especially good news for Seattle, the only team remaining in the NFL with an undefeated record at home (6-0), as they seek their third Super Bowl appearance in the last four years.
Logically speaking, things are looking pretty good for the Seahawks. But it's hard to overlook the loss of the player who was the catalyst for the franchise turnaround six years ago.
When Carroll and John Schneider took over in 2010, they sought a free safety with range unlike any other and a left tackle who could anchor the protection for whoever they'd eventually find to be a franchise quarterback. If the Kansas City Chiefs hadn't selected Eric Berry ahead of them in the draft that year, there's a good chance he'd be in Seattle, but the Chiefs did and the Seahawks picked tackle Russell Okung instead. Still, they wound up with Thomas at 14th overall shortly thereafter and since 2012, they've been the best defense in the NFL, allowing the fewest points in the league in each season, including this one.
A lot of people can take some credit for how good this defense is, including Thomas. But just because he won't be on the field for the rest of the season, it doesn't mean that the Seahawks D will suddenly tank.
Backup Steven Terrell played very well in his first career start a week ago against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Though Seattle gave up a touchdown on the first play with him in the lineup against Carolina on Sunday, the defense didn't allow any points otherwise and again, the Panthers didn't actually score upon replay. Terrell may not possess all of the skills of Thomas, a three-time All-Pro, but one thing he does have in common with him is speed: Terrell ran a 4.35 at his pro day for Texas A&M, basically the same as Thomas, if not a hair faster.
The other thing is depth at all positions, not just safety. Thomas is a great player, but so is Chancellor, Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril, Bobby Wagner, Richard Sherman and K.J. Wright. Also: DeShawn Shead, Frank Clark, Jeremy Lane, Ahtyba Rubin, Jarran Reed, and Tony McDaniel are pretty good. That's just on defense. Seattle is strong on offense with Russell Wilson, Jimmy Graham, Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett and the recently-healthy Thomas Rawls.
So the team should be OK in th short term, but there was another concern on Sunday: Will Thomas actually retire?
That's not a question that any of us can answer just as it is probably not a question that Thomas can answer. The fact that he would tweet that he's thinking about retirement probably means that it's a possibility and one that he's contemplated throughout his career. From the standpoint of someone who has watched every game he's played in as a pro and many locker room interviews after those games, I can say that Thomas is passionate to a fault. Just days ago, as he missed the first game of his career, Thomas tweeted out how hard it was to be away from his team. He's a person that has a strong affinity for his alma mater Texas, and for his "Legion of Boom" teammates in the Seattle secondary.
However, it's extremely rare to hear a 27-year-old even hint at retirement after any injury, especially one that should presumably fully heal before next season. We've seen players end their careers early because of concussion concerns, we've seen others unable to get back because of knee injuries, but Thomas wasted no time before saying he might not ever play again after the first significant injury of his career, and it was seemingly a fracture that should allow him to come back. Maybe he really doesn't want to take any further risks. Maybe one scare was enough. Maybe he was just caught up by the heat of the moment.
Either way, Earl Thomas should eventually be fine. The Seahawks should be fine. If Thomas returns, the rest of the league should be scared. Knowing that he won't for the rest of this season, the league should still be scared of the Seahawks. As they showed on Sunday night, they aren't ready to call it quits.