Michael Thomas, the King
Me to Michael Thomas, Sunday afternoon: “What does it feel like to have caught more passes in a season than any player in the 100-year history of the NFL?”
Thomas, sounding fatigued: “Man, I haven’t really like—I don’t think it’s hit yet. I have so much more bigger goals, way more team-oriented goals. It’s a blessing to be in that position, to be in this position and have this opportunity to do something like this. I’m still not finished.”
His teammates will tell you Thomas is the anti-prima donna. He’s a worker bee. He told me in the summer, after he signed his five-year, $19.3-million-a-year deal, that he wanted to make sure no one would ever think he’d arrived—he wanted to keep working as though he hadn’t arrived. And the amazing thing about Thomas, I think, is not just the volume of catches. It’s knowing the defense has worked all week to slow him down, and figure out the rubs and screens and legal picks, and counter his physicality. But no one has been able to do it. This year, he’s caught 145 of the 176 times he’s been targeted by Drew Brees, Teddy Bridgewater and Taysom Hill—meaning he’s caught 82.4 percent of balls thrown to to him. Julio Jones has caught 63.9 percent of the throws to him. Tyreek Hill, 63.6 percent. JuJu Smith-Schuster, 62.5 percent. Julian Edelman, 66.4 percent.
Targeted 12 times a game and catching 10, basically, when everyone knows the offense is going to throw at least one pass to you on every series. Surprised? “Not really,” Thomas said. “It’s my accountability and the love for the game, love for my teammates. We’re all in the huddle. We’re all trying to execute our plays to the best of our ability and move the chains. Make our coaches right. When I have the opportunity to make a play, I put 100 percent responsibility on myself and I want to make that play for my teammates.”
He tied Marvin Harrison’s record on a 20-yard out route from Hill. He thought he broke it with a 14-yard touchdown from Brees that was turned into a 13-yard gain to the 1-yard line on further review. Which gave Brees the chance to get him a 145th catch, his ninth TD reception of the year, from two yards out to ice the 38-28 win.
Coming off the field, Brees hugged him and said: “No one deserves it more than you.” His coaches and teammates won’t argue that.