Loss of Earl Thomas big hit to Seattle's playoff plans

Seattle Seahawks' Earl Thomas leaves the field on a cart after being injured against the Carolina Panthers in the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Seattle. (AP Photo/Stephen Brashear)
Stephen Brashear/AP

SEATTLE (AP) The missing necktie that cost Carolina's Cam Newton one play is insignificant compared to what the Seattle Seahawks lost on Sunday night.

There is no replacing Earl Thomas and all he means to Seattle's stingy defense. Now, the Seahawks must play the rest of the regular season and likely a big chunk of the postseason without their star safety.

''You can't make up for it,'' defensive end Michael Bennett said. ''You just try to find some others who can do half of what he does.''

Seattle's 40-7 romp over the Panthers kept the Seahawks on track for another NFC West title. They are three games ahead of Arizona with four remaining, and Seattle (8-3-1) moved back in front of Detroit for a coveted first-round bye.

But playoff positioning or Seattle reaching the 40-point mark for the first time since its Super Bowl rout of Denver was secondary to Thomas' broken lower left leg. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thomas has a cracked tibia and the injury is ''always six weeks,'' but his status for a possible return during the postseason remains very much in question.

Thomas missed the first game of his pro career last week when he sat out against Tampa Bay due to a hamstring injury. He returned just 14 days after first getting hurt and lasted less than two quarters before the course of Seattle's season changed.

Thomas collided with teammate Kam Chancellor as both attempted to intercept a pass from Newton. True to Thomas' nature, he was talking about the break he made on the ball as he laid on the ground in pain, teammate Richard Sherman said.

''We're all going to miss the heck out of Earl because we love having that guy back there,'' Carroll said. ''But we don't get to.''

Seattle will rely on Steven Terrell to fill Thomas' role as the center fielder patrolling the back of the defense. Terrell has played well in his limited opportunities, but now will be counted on for an extended period if Seattle is to stay on its playoff track.

Of course, if the Seahawks continue to put up 40 points and rush for 240 yards, there will be less pressure on the defense.

''The running game is a big part of the offense and it complements everything that we do,'' receiver Doug Baldwin said. ''When we run the ball like we did tonight, the defense has to account for it.''

Carolina (4-8) has its own injury issues it's been dealing with, but it was a missing necktie that became the focal point of what turned into a blowout loss. Newton was benched for the first series of the game because he violated the Panthers' dress code by not having a necktie for the team flight to Seattle.

That one series lasted just one play as Derek Anderson's pass for Mike Tolbert deflected into the arms of Seattle linebacker Mike Morgan and was the beginning of a miserable night for Carolina.

The Panthers had one highlight, when Newton hit Ted Ginn Jr. for a 55-yard touchdown in the second quarter. Otherwise, it was big plays by Seattle underneath a cloud of controversy over the decision to punish Newton – even if it lasted only one play.

''There are some guys out there that need to step it up and unfortunately they didn't,'' Carolina coach Ron Rivera said.

Here are some other things to know after Seattle improved to 6-0 at home this season:

RAWLS ROLLING: Thomas Rawls finally had the breakout Seattle has been waiting for from its run game. Rawls rushed for 103 yards and two touchdowns in the first half, including a 45-yard dart early in the second quarter that answered Carolina's lone score. Rawls finished with 106 yards after he was limited in the second half, but the performance was an optimistic sign coming against the No. 2 rush defense in the NFL.

MOUNTING INJURIES: While losing Thomas is a huge blow for Seattle, the Panthers added to their already significant injury list. Carolina was without starters Kurt Coleman, Luke Kuechly, Daryl Williams and Mario Addison, then lost cornerback Daryl Worley and linebacker David Mayo to concussions against the Seahawks.

''We're beat up pretty bad. Pretty injured,'' safety Tre Boston said. ''We've got guys who stepped up and guys who play well when they step up, but it's starting to show on offense and defense.''

ROCKET LOCKETT: Seattle wide receiver Tyler Lockett spent the first half of the season running tentatively after a knee injury in Week 2 against Los Angeles. His burst finally appears to have returned, and he took off on a flashy, 75-yard touchdown run on the first play of the second half. Most impressive was Lockett outrunning Boston, who appeared to have the angle on him.

''I knew if I got caught, I would never hear the end of it at our meetings,'' Lockett said.

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