CLEVELAND — How many Pro Bowls has left tackle Joe Thomas been to in his career? Three. How many quarterbacks have gone down on Thomas’ watch this season? Two.
Although Thomas wasn’t ready to admit it, the Wisconsin standout turned in one of the worst performances of his four-year NFL career Sunday.
He was responsible for both sacks of Seneca Wallace — the second leading to Wallace’s ankle injury that sidelined the starting quarterback for the remainder of the game — allowed the person he was supposed to block to pressure Jake Delhomme during a fourth-quarter interception that ended all hope of a rally, and was beaten repeatedly by Falcons star defensive end John Abraham throughout the Browns’ 20-10 loss to Atlanta.
“I think he’s probably the best, maybe the second-best pass rusher in the NFL,” Thomas said of Abraham. “He’s got the second- most sacks since 2001 (behind Indianapolis’ Dwight Freeney). He’s very fast, he’s very quick and he’s very strong.”
Thomas also had some fingers pointed at him — including by Browns coach Eric Mangini who criticized the protection — after the Browns season-opening loss at Tampa Bay when defender Stylez G. White dove at Delhomme’s legs and caused the ankle injury that sidelined the top quarterback for three games.
Ronde Barber intercepted Delhomme’s pass in that game and returned it to the Browns 3-yard line to set up a touchdown, a play that was crucial in the loss. The sacks and interception against Atlanta on Sunday also were gamechanging plays, meaning Thomas had a sizeable role in both defeats.
“I personally didn’t play my best game,” he said. “I’ll have to watch the film. … In the NFL, sometimes you have good days and sometimes you have bad days. It wasn’t my best day, but I don’t know if I’d go that far (and say it was his career worst).”
Abraham, who has four sacks through five games, is considered a pass-rushing specialist.
“On first and second down, he’s on the sideline drinking water,” Thomas said. “Then when it’s time to rush the passer on third down, they put him in there. He’s fresh, and when you can’t run the ball against them it just plays into their game.”
The Browns had no luck trying to establish the run — they averaged just 2.4 yards on 20 carries with a long of 9 — and Delhomme, who played the second half at quarterback, was barely mobile and still nursing his ankle injury.
All those factors meant Abraham and his fellow defensive linemen could go full blast against Cleveland’s blockers.
“He’s a pass rusher, he’s a sack guy … that’s why they put him out there,”Thomas said. “They’ve got three other guys who are in there to defend the run and he’s in there to get sacks.”
Thomas said he’s not injured other than the normal bumps and bruises and doesn’t expect the Browns to change their game plan when it comes to pass blocking.
The unusual lapses may be costing the Browns on the field, but it hasn’t hurt Thomas’ reputation among his teammates.
“I’ve been blessed to play with some of the best tackles — Jonathan Ogden, Joe Staley — and I think Joe Thomas is right up there,” said right tackle Tony Pashos, who started Sunday for John St. Clair. “He fought his tail off to the very end. I’ll go to war with him any day of the week.”