Was the dud in Tampa Bay an anomaly or a warning sign for Seahawks?
The former. Granted, that was the third dud this season, the third game with zero touchdowns. This season’s team has shown alarming lapses of not bringing the required intensity at the start of some games against foes over which they own a clear talent advantage. And the offensive line remains a concern no matter who the Seahawks play. But this will be a different Seattle team Sunday night against Carolina, foremost because five starters are returning from injuries. That includes three important guys: three-time All-Pro safety Earl Thomas, Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett and center Justin Britt, the team’s best lineman right now. By the end of December we are likely to be shaking our heads and wondering, “Did this team really lose to Tampa Bay and Los Angeles?”
Did Earl Thomas end Rob Gronkowski’s season?
Conflicting reports on this, as Gronkowski had back surgery this past week. A Buffalo News report stated that the hit Thomas put onto Gronkowski, which knocked him out of the game for five plays during the Seahawks’ win over New England last month, was the one that ruptured a disk in the hulking tight end’s back and punctured a lung. A statement from the Patriots acknowledged that Thomas’ hit on Nov. 13 injured Gronkowski’s lung, but said a hit early in the next game in which he played, Nov. 27 against the New York Jets, caused pain in his back and leg. When I asked Thomas on Thursday about Gronkowski needing surgery, he said: “Just sorry it turned out the way it did. When you deal with injuries it’s hard on your mind. I just hope he stays positive.”
Why I like Cam Newton
It’s not just because he is uniquely talented, a quarterback who runs like a steamroller. How many teams run power plays inside the tackles with their QB? Only the Panthers, with Newton. It’s more than that. Yes, he broods and pouts occasionally, such as after Carolina’s Super Bowl 50 loss to Denver. But emotions — good and bad — are a huge part of his game and his persona. It’s refreshing. On Wednesday, Richard Sherman jabbed Newton over the quarterback tossing aside a Seattle fan’s 12th Man flag, which was shoved in Newton’s face during a victory lap around the stadium in Charlotte immediately following Carolina’s playoff win over Seattle in last January. “I guess karma gets you,” Sherman said. “Doesn’t look like they are going to the playoffs this year.” Newton’s response to reporters covering the Panthers was measured, classy — and full of common sense: “Where was the flag at? Was it at our house? Oh, OK. It’s irrelevant what he says right now. I have a lot of respect for Richard and I don’t think that has nothing to do with karma that another opposing team’s flag was in my stadium. Simple.”
Can you imagine being in the Buffalo Wild Wings when Thomas was there watching his Seahawks?
The three-time All-Pro safety said the patrons at the Portland restaurant — where he and his wife, daughter and brother watched the Seahawks lose at Tampa Bay while he stayed on the West Coast with a sprained hamstring — mostly left him alone. He was in hoodie — hood up — and shades. But, oh, yes, he was cheering. Earl Thomas doesn’t do passive — even at Buffalo Wild Wings. Kudos to the server who must have come up with a clutch performance — of not getting in the way or inconveniencing one of the sport’s most notoriously intense players during the first game he’s missed in his career.
Why all the funky-colored shoes this Sunday in the NFL?
The infamously strict, staid-on-fashion league usually fines players for having their socks too low, let alone allow them to wear any color of shoe with any design they want. But the NFL is permitting players for Week-13 games to wear cleats that do not conform to its uniform policies. It is for the “My Cleats, My Cause” initiative, with the game-worn shoes then going to players’ chosen charities. Seahawks defensive end Cliff Avril is wearing blue-and-red high tops with the flag of Haiti and his name on them during the game against Carolina. Avril’s grandparents lived in Haiti and he is pledging to build a house for every sack he has this season. (He’s up to 10 new homes on the impoverished island nation so far). Wide receiver Doug Baldwin is wearing orange-yellow cleats with black tiger stripes on them. That is reminiscent of his youth-league team in Florida, and his shoes will benefit the Southern Sports Youth Association. Tight end Jimmy Graham, who is a licensed pilot, is wearing black high tops with white angel wings. His cause is Angel Flight Soars, which arranges free air travel for people who lack the finances to pay for life-saving medical treatment. Cornerback Richard Sherman is wearing his usual blue-and-green cleats, but with the logo of his Blanket Coverage foundation on them. Quarterback Russell Wilson is wearing white high-cut cleats with blue bottoms. They have his Why Not You Foundation logo and globes on them. The foundation says it is dedicated to creating real and lasting change in the world by motivating, empowering and preparing today’s youths to be tomorrow’s leaders.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle