“It’s a blue-collar city, and for a blue-collar guy like myself, it’s easy to fall in love with the people and kind of the chip on the shoulder that a lot of people have because they feel like they’ve been slighted for so long. It’s so important for me to be here for the turnaround. I don’t want to just get a Super Bowl ring [by] being traded to a dream team. It would feel unsatisfying. Unfulfilling.”
It’s human nature for a player to check out, at least mentally, when his team is out of the playoff picture by Halloween. Thomas has practically had to beg to stay in on a couple of occasions.
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In 2014, the Browns were beating the Pittsburgh Steelers, manhandling them, actually, when then-coach Mike Pettine told backup Vinston Painter to go in and replace Thomas; the coach didn’t want his best player getting hurt in mop-up duty. Pettine was in his first year, and didn’t know any better. Thomas did a double take when he saw Painter.
THE BEST SEASON, no doubt, was 2007, his rookie year. The Browns went 10-6, came oh-so-close to making the playoffs, and Thomas must have figured it would always be like that, because he’d always played on winning teams. He went to the state tournament a combined five times alone in basketball and football at Brookfield Central High in Wisconsin, roughly 15 minutes from J.J. Watt’s hometown of Pewaukee.
Thomas would be missed if he can’t play or is limited this weekend at Tampa Bay. He is leading the team in every receiving category, with 69 catches, 831 yards and seven touchdowns. But the Saints have a deep receiving corps that includes Brandin Cooks, Willie Snead and Brandon Coleman. Middle linebacker Craig Robertson also missed practice with a shoulder injury. He’d be hard to replace as an every-down player and the team’s leading tackler.
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Coach Mike Zimmer wouldn’t rule out the possibility of Smith returning from an ankle injury that had him on crutches and in a walking boot last Thursday, pointing out how often Smith plays through injuries. But given that Smith hasn’t practiced during the Vikings’ first two sessions of the week, his ability to play Sunday appears to be in doubt.