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Seahawks’ tandem helped put NFC in position to win
HONOLULU – Earl Thomas and Russell Okung were out of position.
Not in a bad way, as in unable to make a play because of it. Instead, each found themselves playing a new position in Sunday’s Pro Bowl, but still found ways to make plays in the NFC’s Seahawks Six-powered 62-35 victory over the AFC at Aloha Stadium.
Thomas, the Seahawks’ All-Pro free safety, intercepted a pass on the second play of the second half that setup the first of three touchdown passes by Seahawks rookie quarterback Russell Wilson and pushed the NFC’s lead to 38-14. But he did while playing as the nickel back, sitting on Matt Schaub’s pass to Denver Broncos’ wide receiver Demaryius Thomas in the flat and forcing the Houston Texans’ quarterback to throw to the wrong Thomas.
Okung, who was voted to the Pro Bowl as the NFC’s starting left tackle, also spent time on the right side – a transition that is not as easy as he made it look.
But things like that happen in the Pro Bowl, where preparation time is even more limited than roster size – with three tackles and three cornerbacks for each team.
Or as Okung put it on the field after the game, “Somebody had to do it, and I was willing.”
Then there was Thomas, and no one could doubt that he came to play in a game where the players’ effort was questioned in last year’s Pro Bowl. Thomas wanted to make a statement for the NFC, and especially the Seahawks Six.
He did that with his big interception, as well as on a few other tempo-setting plays.
“I took charge of the DBs back there, and they followed,” said Thomas, who also got some snaps at cornerback.
Thomas then used the opportunity to send a good-natured message to Seahawks coach Pete Carroll while discussing his interception – when he was in man-to-man coverage, but gambled because his quickness and closing speed by letting the Broncos’ Thomas run to the flat.
“Hopefully, coach Carroll saw it and will let me play,” he said through a sly smile that was as good as a wink. “I wanted to put something on film, so coach Carroll can look at it and say, ‘OK, look what we’ve got. He can cover. He can play the slot.’ Maybe I’ll get some action out there.”
Not that Thomas wasn’t already in the middle of just about everything good the Seahawks’ No. 4-ranked defense did during the team’s 11-5 regular season and then the franchise’s first road playoff victory since 1983 in the wild-card round against the Washington Redskins.
But that’s Thomas. Never satisfied. Always looking for ways to do more. Definitely playing with a chip on his shoulder pad despite everything he’s already done in his first three seasons with the team.
“I think it’s all about confidence,” the 5-foot-10 Thomas said of an intangible were he never comes up short. “I don’t care who’s at quarterback. Peyton Manning kind of got me fired up as soon as I got here; he called me out in front of everybody in meetings.
“And look what happened.”
Okung also was making things happen in a game where the NFC ran the ball 27 times – with teammate Marshawn Lynch leading all backs with 21 yards and scoring one of the game’s two rushing TDs – while putting it up 44 times. More than half those passes were thrown by the New York Giants’ Eli Manning (16 of 23), with the New Orleans Saints’ Drew Brees (8 of 11) and Wilson (8 of 10) splitting the rest.
Okung was on the field for eight of the NFC’s 10 scoring drives – six at left tackle, two on the right side. With only three tackles on the roster, someone had to do double duty.
“It was tough, man,” Okung said after his first Pro Bowl experience. “We did it in practice and the new guys had to kind of rotate. It’s something we weren’t used to doing. But we came out on top.”
Even with Thomas and Okung playing out of position. Read