Somewhere near the end of the tunnel that led the Ravens from the visiting locker room to the turf at CenturyLink Field on Sunday afternoon, a Seattle Seahawks fan held a sign.
“The first thing you see: ‘The Ravens are slow and big like Earl,' “ cornerback Marlon Humphrey recalled Sunday, the Earl in question being Ravens safety Earl Thomas III, a star in Seattle for nearly a decade. “That’s the first sign I seen. I know he’s seen it, too. It was big.”
So was the Ravens’ 30-16 win Sunday over the Seattle Seahawks, a credential-stamping breakthrough led by Lamar Jackson’s rushing and the defense’s playmaking. In his first visit to Seattle since an acrimonious offseason divorce, Thomas hadn’t seen the sign — that’s what he claimed afterward, anyway — but he’d helped oversee a defensive effort that wouldn’t have looked out of place in the Seahawks’ halcyon “Legion of Boom” days.
Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson entered the game with 13 touchdowns, no interceptions and widespread adoration. Over six weeks, he had emerged as the NFL’s top quarterback. He left the loss with his first interception — a pick-six by new Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters, whom he just couldn’t catch along the sideline — and a 65.2 passer rating, by far the worst of his season.
Thomas appeared to have words for the Seattle sideline after that play. He left no doubt about his opinion of Seahawks coach Pete Carroll, in particular, when cornerback Marlon Humphrey picked up a fourth-quarter fumble by wide receiver DK Metcalf and returned it 18 yards for a touchdown and 30-13 lead. There were gesticulations and choice words.
“You knew I was going to say something,” Thomas said. “I definitely said what I had to say. It was between me and them. It felt great, man, just to see Marcus run down the sideline, Marlon scoop the fumble recovery up and score. That’s a good way to close the game.”
After Humphrey’s touchdown, Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner had to insert himself between Thomas and the Seattle sideline. As Thomas walked back toward the Ravens sideline, Wagner trailing him, Thomas wrapped his hands around Wagner’s helmet and pretended to execute a “Stone Cold stunner.” They separated peacefully.
Thomas had made clear all week that he held no ill will toward his former Seahawks teammates. As the teams met at midfield after the game, Thomas embraced old friends in his new colors. He exchanged jerseys with Wilson. “Yeah, it’s always going to be love,” he said of Wilson. “That’s my boy.”
Whatever R-rated thoughts he had about Carroll and the Seahawks front office that dragged its feet on signing him to a long-term extension after a series of lower-body injuries, Thomas kept to himself. Just over a year ago, he gave the Seahawks sideline a middle-finger salute as he was carted off the field with a season-ending lower leg fracture. The gesture was for Carroll, whom he later said hadn’t been honest with him.
The two strolled by each other after the game. Before a throng of Seattle-area and Ravens reporters, Thomas didn’t mention Carroll by name. Carroll didn’t allude to Thomas at all.
“Earl had a great game,” coach John Harbaugh said. “And it meant a lot to Earl. Earl didn't have much to say. He just wanted to go 'do.' I think he played great. No big plays [allowed]. Nothing over the top, Earl and [safety] Chuck [Clark] both. Earl was back there, patrolling the back end. A couple of critical tackles. I mean, sometimes you forget about the safety when he's doing his job so well.”
Thomas went about his pregame routine as if he knew he couldn’t draw too much attention to himself. With a pack of cameras following him, he hugged a few Seahawks players as he strolled onto his old stomping grounds. He stopped to sign a few No. 29 jerseys. He said he heard boos from some fans and well wishes from others.
Afterward, Thomas heard questions about what it meant to return. He chose to mostly talk about what it meant for the team to win. The Ravens, he said, are “on the right track.”
“When Earl broke us down, all week, really, we kept saying, ‘Earl, we got you. Earl, we got you,’ ” Humphrey said. “The Seahawks moved on from him. I think everyone knew they felt like he didn’t have it anymore. It wasn’t like a happy go-away. It was more like, ‘You don’t got it anymore. We don’t really want you.’ We felt like it’s just a game, but for Earl, it’s a little bit more."