Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Dolphins' hero Thomas wins AFC Defensive Player of the Week

January 22, 2012.

A day that thrust the name of former Oakland Raiders practice squad safety Sterling Moore into the lexicon and lore of Patriots' championship play, setting into motion a string of events that helped the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl and left the Baltimore Ravens lamenting their poor luck.

Moore had been pressed into service by coach Bill Belichick into his secondary that had suffered through a plague of injuries, and on a second down with 27 seconds left in an epic AFC Championship Game on a frozen Gillette Stadium field and the Ravens in the Patriots red zone, the undrafted rookie free agent safety cemented his place in New England Patriots' history...

...swiping at a ball thrown by Ravens' quarterback Joe Flacco and caught by veteran wide receiver Lee Evans along the right sidelines in the end zone - knocking the ball from Evans' hands before he had complete control of it to force third down - then reaching around Ravens' tight end Dennis Pitta to knock down Flacco's third down offering to force a Billy Cundiff field goal attempt to tie the game.

Of course, Cundiff hooked the 23 yard attempt and the Patriots advanced to the Super Bowl in improbable fashion - though in the title game, New York Giants' quarterback Eli Manning victimized Moore on a perfect downfield strike along the sidelines to set up the Giants' winning score...

Fast forward to last Sunday.

Michael Thomas, an undrafted free agent safety out of Stanford, signed by his former college coach onto the San Francisco 49ers' practice squad in 2012, where the Miami Dolphins - desperate for defensive back depth - offered him a spot on their 53 man roster just five days prior to their matchup with the New England Patriots.

Thomas quickly made his way to south Florida and spent the next few days on the scout team, taking no reps in practice and finding himself as the bottom-of-the-barrel option for Joe Philbin's defense - finding himself on the field on the Patriots' final drive of the game due to injuries all over the secondary.

“I went out there knowing Tom Brady was coming after me as the new kid on the block.”

And why not?  Just as Joe Flacco had gone after Sterling Moore in the AFC Championship game, Brady went after Thomas - who had never played a regular season snap in the NFL - and the outcome for Brady and the Patriots was eerily similar.

With 27 seconds remaining and the Patriots with the ball inside the Dolphins red zone, quarterback Tom Brady lofted a perfect pass into the hands of wide receiver Danny Amendola, but Thomas got his hand up and swiped the ball out of Amendola's hands before he could secure it, preventing a sure touchdown...

...then on the final attempt of the game by Brady, Thomas stepped in front of receiver Austin Collie and intercepting the ball, ending the Patriots' comeback bid from a 24-20 deficit.

The Dolphins didn't advance to the Super Bowl on the play, but they did inch closer to a wild card playoff spot - and Thomas, who hadn't even found a place to live and was staying on the Dolphins' dime at a hotel, was awarded the AFC Defensive Player of the Week award for his inspiring play.

“It has been crazy, and to be honest, it hasn’t really sunk in yet,” said Thomas of the series of plays that made a hugely positive first impression with his teammates and the Miami fan base - and who was busy moving into a furnished apartment on Monday while reveling in his accomplishment, blissfully unaware that he was being considered for the award...

...driving around in a rental car, with the football that he intercepted in the trunk.

“I have a bed and the ball." he said at the time, "That’s all I need.”

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