For the San Francisco 49ers, Week 15 was a story of a player that truly got away. However, that player was not in Tampa Bay, but over 250 miles away, down in South Beach as a member of the Miami Dolphins.
Last week, NinerNoise.com wrote about safety Michael Thomas being signed off of San Francisco’s practice squad by the Dolphins. The 49ers signed Thomas as an undrafted free agent in 2011 because he played safety under Jim Harbaugh and Vic Fangio while attending Stanford. Harbaugh wanted Thomas so much that he gave the safety a raise from $6,000 to just under $9,000 for this season. With a chance to jump from one team’s practice squad to being active on another team’s 53-man roster for Week 15, Thomas did not want to waste this opportunity. But he almost missed out on a chance of a lifetime.
In the last two weeks of football, I cannot remember a span of games that have had so many back-and-forth fourth quarters and heart attack inducing finishes. Last week was the Snow Bowl (Eagles-Lions edition), the Ravens-Vikings scoring five touchdowns in the last 125 seconds of the game and Tom Brady willing his Patriots to win over the Browns in the final 40 seconds. Oh, yeah, and there was also the 49ers’ victory over the Seahawks that was heart attack inducing throughout the whole game. At the end my blood pressure thanked me.
Then there was this week. As the 49ers were wrapping up their 33-14 win, I was in the process of writing a game-review with the last of the morning games finishing up in the background. The Bears had to rally in the fourth quarter to beat the Browns with three touchdowns in the final frame. It looked like the Cardinals were well on their way to a victory — and denying the 49ers a chance to clinch a playoff spot — when they blew a 10-point lead in the fourth quarter. Down 34-24 with three minutes to go, the Titans managed to kick a field goal, recovered an onside kick and then drove for a touchdown that tied up the game with 10 seconds left in regulation. By that point I couldn’t believe what I was seeing, that the 49ers still had a chance to clinch a playoff berth in Week 15. I sat down to watch in earnest, only to be disappointed by the Titans who ended up losing, 37-34.
Also occurring around that time was the Patriots-Dolphins final quarter that saw 24 points scored. With 1:15 left to go in the game, the Dolphins had just finished a go-ahead touchdown drive for a 24-20 lead. Of course, everyone thought that was too much time left for Brady to work his magic again with a late game-winning touchdown drive. And it almost was, if not for Michael Thomas.
Brady took his offense to the Dolphins’ 19-yard line with 27 seconds left to play. However, he would come short with three consecutive incompletions. The fourth pass was intercepted by Thomas with 2 seconds left, who also broke up a pass in the end zone to wide receiver Danny Amendola on a previous play (picture above). Game, set, match for the Dolphins who lost the previous seven contents to New England.
The remarkable part of Thomas’ story is that he went from the 49ers’ practice squad, to almost oversleeping and missing his chance to sign with Miami, to being on the field only on punt returns, to saving the day for the Dolphins and keeping their playoff hopes alive.
The only reason Thomas, a safety, was in the game was because of injuries to cornerbacks Nolan Carroll and Brent Grimes. It was an emergency situation for the Dolphins that forced them to play Thomas — despite the fact that he was an undrafted free agent, with zero NFL regular season experience not only on the field, but at corner — as they tried stopping the Patriots from winning the game.
Monday Morning Quarterback wrote about Thomas’ wild week and Sunday. Here is the beginning part of their story. I recommend reading the rest of the story at the link below the excerpt:
Last Monday morning, San Francisco practice squad safety Michael Thomas was sleeping in on a victory Monday for the Niners. A day off, other than getting a lift and a workout in at some point during the day. At 10:20 a.m., late for Thomas, he finally paid attention to the vibrating phone and sat up. He’d missed four calls from his agent, Christina Phillips, and a text that said, “WAKE UP! There’s a team that wants you. If you don’t wake up soon they’re going to move on.” Thomas called, and the team was Miami. There was no time to think. Miami was offering a spot on the 53-man roster, the Holy Grail for practice squad players, and seeing that Thomas had spent all 22 game weeks last year and all 14 weeks so far this year on the San Francisco practice squad, he figured he’d better grab an active-roster spot. There was a flight at 2:30 from San Francisco to Miami, and he had to be on it. He made it, not even bothering to close down his Bay Area apartment. “No time,” he said. “I was just like, ‘Holy crap! I gotta go!’ ”
[Click here to read more. Note: Scroll down until Miami snapped the schneid against the Pats. A guy some Dolphins don’t know was key.]