Quite A Catch

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Hail Mary touchdown has put Mike Thomas on the map.

Hail Mary touchdown has put Mike Thomas on the map.

By Charean Williams

Once the Hail Mary landed in his hands, and he crossed the goal line, Mike Thomas knew his career had changed forever. Only two seasons into his NFL career, the Jaguars receiver already is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Thomas’ jersey and gloves were sent to Canton, Ohio, for display after he caught a 50-yard touchdown pass on the final play to give Jacksonville a miraculous, 31-24, victory over the Texans two weeks ago.

“I’m just blessed and honored that things are happening for me and happening to me,” Thomas said. “I’m grateful for them. It’s definitely been a lot going on these last couple of weeks.”

It was the start of the best eight days of Thomas’ life.

He caught the Hail Mary on Nov. 14; he traveled to Bristol, Conn., the next day to appear on ESPN; his girlfriend Angelica delivered his second child, Audrina Jervae Thomas, on Sunday; and, later Sunday, he caught a touchdown pass in the Jaguars’ 24-20 victory over the Browns.

“It’s been fun,” Thomas said, “and tiring.”

Thomas always will be linked to the Hail Mary, but he isn’t a one-catch wonder. He is the team’s leading receiver with 46 catches for 572 yards and three touchdowns. In the past three games, he has 17 receptions for 226 yards and three touchdowns.

“Honestly, I believe in my abilities,” Thomas said. “I’ve always believed in my abilities. I’m a very confident player if you don’t know anything about me. People that know me know that I’m not cocky; I’m real down to earth, but I just believe in myself. This kind of thing, the season that I’m having, it’s expected of me, just because I’ve put in so much work, and I’m real dedicated to what I do. A lot of people try to look down on me because of my height. It is what it is. I go to work every day and try to get better. I definitely believe in myself and I believe this season is well deserved for me. I just keep working and hope things will get better.”

Thomas, who is only 5-8, 198 pounds, produced one of the biggest plays in NFL history. Texans defensive back Glover Quin knocked down David Garrard’s pass in the end zone, but Quin inadvertently batted it right to Thomas. Thomas caught the ball at the 1-yard line and stepped into the end zone as the Texans watched in disbelief.

“It was just a reaction,” Thomas said. “It was unconditioned. You can’t control it. There’s a reaction. I reacted to the ball and caught it. The next thing you know, it was a touchdown.”

Now, he’s a hero.

“Some people recognized me before the play,” Thomas said. “Now that I’ve been on ESPN quite a bit, people are starting to recognize me a lot more.”

Defending a championship

It took the Saints 43 years to win their first championship. They are figuring out why it’s harder the second time.

Only seven of the 43 previous Super Bowl champions repeated.

“There’s always challenges with a new season anyway, but especially coming off a championship year, it’s even harder to win, because every time you step on the field, people are gunning for you,” quarterback Drew Brees said. “You have what they want.”

Brees said before the season he sought advice on winning multiple titles. The Saints are not satisfied with just one Lombardi Trophy.

“It’s one thing to talk about it. It’s another thing to actually go out and experience it for yourself,” Brees said. “There’s always going to be those times where you just have to work through it, as a team, on your own. There’s going to be adversity, you know there is, for every team no matter what the circumstances were the year before. I feel like we’re a pretty battle-tested team for what we went through in the early part of the season. Now is the time to be playing our best football.”

Mr. Smith goes to St. Louis

As the No. 2 overall pick last year, Jason Smith received a six-year deal with $33 million in guarantees from the Rams. He immediately was tabbed “the next Orlando Pace.”

But Smith has yet to play left tackle, and he has been slowed by three injuries in two seasons. He has missed nine of a possible 25 games with a knee injury and two concussions.

Smith’s first head injury came in a Nov. 22 game against the Cardinals. He missed the rest of the 2009 season. His second came in practice this season before the Oct. 31 game against Carolina. He missed one game.

He also had one documented concussion at Baylor.

“It’s one of those deals where they happen,” Smith said. “In the NFL, guys are hitting hard every day. You’ve got to just deal with. With my belief being in God and knowing that he does everything to us for a reason, I just pray about it and seek to find out what it is he has in store for me and not basically worry about what happened to me.”

Smith has allowed two sacks this season, according to STATS, Inc., and he has been called for two holds. The Rams starting right tackle has been a solid run blocker and is working on becoming a better pass blocker.

“I feel like I’ve got room for improvement,” Smith said. “There are things I’ve got to keep working on until the last game is played, and then we’ll go back and evaluate and hear how I did and basically just judge myself and see what can I do better, what can I focus on for the future.”

Fourth-and-short

• Vince Young may have played his last game in Tennessee. He needs season-ending surgery on his right thumb, but his relationship with coach Jeff Fisher might be beyond repair. Young and Fisher both have a year remaining on their current contracts, which could force the Titans to make a decision on whether to go forward with Fisher or with Young.

• The Redskins have a plus-6 turnover ratio. Through 10 games last year, they were minus-8. Washington has 21 takeaways this season, putting them on pace for 34. They haven’t had more than 34 takeaways since 1999 when they had 37.

• Rams quarterback Sam Bradford isn’t far off the pace of several rookie passing records. Bradford has completed 228-of-276 passes for 2,158 yards with 14 touchdowns. Peyton Manning was 326-of-575 for 3,739 yards and 26 touchdowns as a rookie in 1998.

• Since head coach Raheem Morris took over the defense, the Bucs are 9-7. Their 21-0 victory over the 49ers last week was their first shutout on the road since 2003. The Bucs have allowed 16 points in their past two games and now rank 16th in overall defense.

• Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers has a 138.6 passer rating the past two games, having completed 49-of-65 passes for 590 yards with seven touchdowns and no interceptions. …

• The Eagles lead the NFL in takeaways with 26, including 19 interceptions. Cornerback Asante Samuel leads the league in interceptions with seven. He has 36 picks since 2006, the most by any player in the league.

• The Steelers will put new sod in Heinz Field on Sunday. The field first came under scrutiny after former kicker Jeff Reed criticized it. The Patriots and the Raiders also reportedly have filed complaints with the league. The field will host the Pitt-West Virginia game Friday and then four high school championship games on Saturday before the new sod goes down.

• The Texans rank 32nd in pass defense and 31st in total defense. They are on pace to become one of the worst passing defenses in NFL history. The 1995 Falcons are the worst in history, allowing 4,541 passing yards. Defensive coordinator Frank Bush has come under fire, but coach Gary Kubiak said Bush will continue to call the defense.

• Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew has three consecutive 100-yard games and four for the season. For the season, he has 878 yards on 209 carries.

• Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is 9-4 in his past 13 starts and has won six of his past seven games.

• Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles continues to lead the NFL in yards per carry, as he averages 6.1 yards. Charles has 1,204 offensive yards, fourth in the league. His 28 runs of 10-plus yards is tops in the NFL.

• Eagles tight end Brent Celek had no receptions last week, the second time in three games he’s gone without a catch. Celek, who led the team in receiving last season, has been used more as a blocker this season because of the Eagles’ issues with their offensive line.

• Dolphins quarterback Tyler Thigpen is 1-11 as an NFL starter. His only NFL victory came in a 20-13 decision over Oakland on Nov. 30, 2008.

• Giants running back Ahmad Bradshaw has lost his starting job after losing five of six fumbles. In his career, Bradshaw has lost eight of 14 fumbles.

• Raiders safety Michael Huff has 62 tackles, surpassing last season’s total of 59.

• Ravens receiver Donte’ Stallworth, who is back from a year-long suspension and a broken bone in his left foot, had a 15-yard catch last week. It was his first catch in almost two years.

• The Bills owe Shawne Merriman the remaining $1.7 million on his 2010 contract. They may get nothing for their money. Merriman, who the Bills claimed off waivers, re-injured his Achilles’ tendon 10 minutes into his first practice with his new team. The Bills have doubts that Merriman will play this year, and he becomes a free agent after the season.

• Bears rookie right tackle J’Marcus Webb had three holding penalties last week against the Dolphins. The team’s seventh-round pick now has four holding penalties and has allowed seven sacks, according to STATS, Inc.

• San Diego is 23-5 in November and December under Norv Turner.

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