LOS ANGELES—Earl Thomas could credit his incredible speed for making one of the most impressive and significant plays in the Seahawks’ 16-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams. Or maybe it was his instincts and awareness that allowed him to close down Todd Gurley and force a fumble just before the Rams running back got to the end zone. Or maybe, just maybe, it was the old Kung Fu movies.
“I did a great job watching those Bruce Lee movies, and it kind of carried over to the football field,” said Thomas, whose well-timed chop on Gurley’s arm turned a sure touchdown into a turnover.
OK, so more went into that play than just Bruce Lee movies. What Thomas displayed, aside from his freakish closing speed, was the mentality that has helped make him one of the game’s best defensive players, and helped make the Seahawks one of the league’s top defensive teams for more than half a decade.
“It’s just fighting and clawing,” said Thomas, who also had an interception in the fourth quarter and made seven tackles. “We always talk about, ‘just give us an inch,’ and I saw a chance to strike on the ball.”
And the play was hardly a fluke. Thomas made almost the exact same play, against the Rams no less, in Week 17 of the 2014 season at CenturyLink Field.
“I had never seen that play before Earl did it the first time, and he has done it twice,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “I said, ‘I’ve never seen anybody else do that, and you did it both times to the Rams.’ It’s crazy, but Earl’s a heck of a player and deserves a lot of credit for never giving up and fighting to the last second.”
Thomas’ forced fumble, which came on the Rams’ first possession, set the tone for what Sherman called the defense’s “most complete game of the year.”
The Rams came into Sunday’s game with a 3-1 record and were averaging a league-best 35.5 points per game. Jared Goff, who has looked much improved in his second season, had a 112.2 passer rating through two games, and Gurley had 596 total yards and seven touchdowns. On Sunday, Los Angeles went 0 for 4 in the red zone, scoring just 3 points in those four possessions; Goff managed just a 48.9 passer rating and was intercepted twice, and Gurley was limited to 43 rushing yards on 14 carries and two catches for 7 yards.
The defense was hardly perfect—the Rams gained 375 yards and were 8 of 15 on third down—but that ability to come up with big plays and big stops in the red zone allowed the Seahawks to knock off the Rams and pitch a second-half shutout.
“These guys have been playing great football for a long time, and I think it’s just another statement that they will not relent,” Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. “They were just fantastically composed and poised, because there were some really tough situations—we get the turnover, then we give it back to them—there were just a lot of mental things that were going on, but they were just really strong and really together, and I thought it was fantastic that they showed that again.
“Our defense kept stopping them. Whenever you get five turnovers in a game, you’re supposed to win the game. That was a huge part of it. The play Earl makes down by the goal line, we’ve seen him do that before, but every time it’s phenomenal that he can make that finish that exquisite moment right there to keep them from scoring. Sheldon (Richardson) did a great job today, obviously came up with the ball a couple of times, played tough all day long. Guys up front played tough all day long. I just thought it was an exciting, tough, hard-nosed, hard-fought, well-deserved win. I loved the way we finished.”
Thomas was far from alone in making big plays. As Carroll noted, Richardson had an interception and recovered a fumble caused by a Frank Clark sack, the defensive line held up well all afternoon, and the coverage was strong enough to limit Goff to a 47 percent completion percentage.
“When we needed a play, we got one,” said middle linebacker Bobby Wagner. “From Earl, from Sheldon, Frank, Mike (Bennett), everybody had some big plays, Kam (Chancellor) at the goal line getting a pass breakup. I just felt like everybody was just locked in and ready to play.”
One of the biggest keys was limiting Gurley, who came into the game second in the league in all-purpose yards and leading the NFL in touchdowns with seven.
“We just hit him,” Wagner said. “We just put a body on him. Didn’t want him to get going, whether it was in the running game or the passing game. We know he’s a great running back, and we just made sure we had our eyes on him.”
Seahawks players downplayed any talk that this matchup with the Rams, who came into the game leading the division with a 3-1 record was a statement game for them or a chance to show they’re still the team to be in the NFC West. Though if anything this game might have served as a reminder that the Seahawks defense is absolutely still a force to be reckoned with.
“I think people look forward to writing us off, and I think our demise was greatly overstated,” Sherman said.
Sherman also thought the win was “essential” for the team’s younger players to experience a tough, gritty win on the road.
“A lot of these guys weren’t here for the 2013, 2014 (seasons) that showed our dominance, that showed what we can be,” Sherman said. “So they kind of hear the stories, they hear about, ‘Oh, these guys are great. Oh, I get to play with this great team.’ So sometimes they kind of rest on their laurels, they rest on their reputation, and they never get to see it. Today, they saw why we are who we are, and why our reputation precedes us, because we go out there and we fight. It’s not perfect, we’re not by any means perfect, but we’re going to give everybody a dog fight.”
The Rams showed plenty of improvement from last season, and despite scoring 10 points, they moved the ball well. But in the end, a relentless Seahawks defense, led by a tremendous individual effort from Thomas, carried Seattle to a hard-fought win.
“It’s just another phenomenal statement about the guy’s will to win, his grit, his competitiveness,” Carroll said of Thomas. “He will just never let up. He keeps on battling. It is who Earl is, so I love that he has had those moments where he has illustrated in such unique fashion that he can do those type of things. He’s just an extraordinary player."
Pregame photos from the Seahawks' Week 5 game against the Rams in Los Angeles.