Imagine being an undrafted rookie defensive back making your NFL debut just days after signing with a new team.
And then imagine being thrust into a one-possession game, trying to protect a lead with under two minutes to play and seeing Tom Brady staring you down.
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That's exactly the scenario Michael Thomas found himself in back in December 2013 — and not only was the stage not too big for the then-23-year-old, he delivered both a game-saving pass breakup and a game-clinching interception against arguably the greatest quarterback to ever play the game.
Thomas recalled the amazing sequence of events this week when he served as a guest columnist for Peter King's Football Morning in America column.
After starting the week on the 49ers practice squad, Thomas was signed by the Dolphins but didn't join his teammates for the first time until Wednesday, four days before Miami faced New England at Sun Life Stadium. Initially happy to just make a special teams tackle — which meant his name would show up on the stat sheet — injuries to the Fins' secondary forced Thomas into action on defense.
"The DB coach comes up to me and says, 'Mike? That’s your name right, Michael Thomas? I see you played slot in college. You’re going to have to play slot again.' Okay. So Tom Brady sees that and literally every play he’s coming to me."
The Dolphins had taken a 24-20 lead with just 1:15 left, but Brady smelled blood in the water, attacking the rookie and the rest of the Miami defense while driving the Patriots downfield and into the red zone.
"They’ve got a first down at the 19-yard line with 27 seconds left and I’m guarding (Danny) Amendola and he’s running a go route to the end zone. I look up and the ball’s coming. Amendola actually gets it in his hands in the end zone but I fight until the end, fight until we get to the ground and the ball pops out. It’s an incomplete, the crowd goes crazy, and now I’m juiced."
Preventing the go-ahead score would have been enough of a memory for a rookie making his NFL debut, but Thomas came up big one more time three plays later. With the Patriots facing a fourth-and-five from the 14-yard line and only seven seconds left on the clock, the spotlight found Thomas once again as Brady targeted Austin Collie.
"It’s like a movie scene. Everything is in slow motion. I leap up in the air and catch it and after I fall down in the end zone it hits me. I just caught the game-winning interception! That’s Tom Brady! I just won the game! All my teammates are jumping up and down, cameras are in my face, the crowd is going crazy, I start crying and yelling for my mama. It was absolutely like a movie."
Game over. Miami wins, 24-20. The loss was a crucial one for the Patriots, who finished the season at 12-4 but ended up as the No. 2 seed in the AFC, one game behind the Broncos.
Thanks to the loss, New England had to go to Denver for the AFC Championship Game, which they lost 26-16. Were it not for Thomas' heroics, the Patriots would have hosted the conference title game, and that could have been enough to tilt the scales in their favor, as they had defeated the Broncos in Foxboro earlier that season.
Considering the impact of the game and the unbelievable sequence of events, it's no wonder that Thomas recalls his NFL debut in such vivid detail.