My game ball goes to NFL official Steve Patrick, the back judge at Sunday’s TD-fest between the New Orleans Saints and Los Angeles Rams at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Patrick turned out to be the only person able to contain Saints wide receiver Michael Thomas.
The Rams defense certainly couldn’t, especially cornerback Marcus Peters who got torched on Thomas’ dramatic 72-yard catch-and-run TD that cemented a 45-35 victory and put the Saints in the driver’s seat for NFC homefield advantage.
Thomas caught 12 of 15 targeted passes from quarterback Drew Brees for a franchise-record 211 yards and the all-important touchdown.
Now to Patrick, who flagged Thomas for his ill-advised theatrics in the Girod Street end zone. Thomas apparently planted a cell phone inside the goal-post padding, and after scoring, he retrieved the flip device and pretended to make a call, reminiscent of the exact end-zone celebration by former Saints wide receiver Joe Horn 15 years ago.
Not sure if MT phoned home. I wasn’t able to read his lips. But I sensed Saints coach Sean Payton didn’t take kindly with Thomas when they met up on the sideline with 3:52 remaining. Thomas’ antics cost the Saints 15 crucial yards on their ensuing kickoff.
Instead of kicking off from their 35, the Saints kicked from their 20 and Rams safety Blake Countess returned the ball 37 yards to their 42. The defense stepped up and bailed Thomas out, stopping the Rams on downs at midfield and allowing Brees and the offense to run out the clock.
All’s well that ends well, I guess. That said, I’m not exactly sure why Thomas pulled off this copy-cat stunt. I’ve never thought of Thomas as a football diva, though he is the nephew of former NFL receiver Keyshawn Johnson, a certified diva in his own right.
Who knows Thomas’ motivation? Obviously, he wanted the spotlight. He recently retained new representation, perhaps with hopes of creating a new image and landing a richly-deserved new contract after the season. He’s currently operating under his rookie contract, a four-year deal worth $5.2 million, including a base salary of $915,361 this season. (I suspect Thomas will forfeit a chunk of that when league hands down a fine this week.)
Halfway through his third season, Thomas already is regarded as one of the best receivers in the NFL and a virtual steal in the second round. His 196 receptions in 2016 and ‘17 represent the most by a NFL player through his first two seasons. Through eight games this season, he has caught 70 of 79 targeted passes (a league-high 88.6 completion percent) for 880 yards and five touchdowns.
Unquestionably, this 25-year-old native of Los Angeles has game.
That was abundantly clear Sunday ... at his calling out party.