Thomas was so overwhelmed by the moment he broke down and shed some tears, first on the sideline in the waning seconds of the game on that Dec. 15 afternoon and then in the tunnel walking back to the locker room afterward.
The moment, that glorious moment, was the culmination of a lot of hard work and perseverance for Thomas, who had spent his first 31 Sundays as an NFL player on the San Francisco 49ers practice squad.
Thomas, though, is hoping it was just the beginning. Put another way, Thomas is looking at the play against Brady as a springboard to bigger and better things.
“The bar is set high,” Thomas said. “I have the highest expectations for myself. I only want to keep getting better, so after that I just want to keep making plays like that to help my team win.”
Already, Thomas is in a better position to contribute to the Dolphins in 2014.
After being signed off the 49ers practice squad last Dec. 10, Thomas pretty much was playing catch-up the whole way in terms of learning the defensive system and the way the Dolphins go about things.
This time around, Thomas has had the benefit of being with the team from the start of the offseason conditioning program, through the Organized Team Activities and on to training camp.
“It feels good to actually have like full-time meetings, actually being able to practice, you’re not thrown out there with just three days with the team and having to play a game,” Thomas said. “So it’s good.
“Coming into the situation I came into last year, all I was trying to do was make a play, just try to fit in any way I can, extend my career in the league. Now, having a chance to actually learn the scheme, understand what the special teams coaches want, plus what Coach (Kevin) Coyle wants us to do on defense, actually having the time in the offseason, I feel way more confident now.”
Thomas is one of six safeties on the roster along with returning starter
While Jones and Delmas, who started 65 games for the Detroit Lions over the past five seasons, are expected to end up in the starting lineup, Thomas isn’t ready to concede anything.
Thomas started for two years at Stanford University, but was not selected in the 2012 draft. When it came time to choose a team as a rookie free agent, he opted for the 49ers in large part because of the opportunity to play for his former head coach (Jim Harbaugh) and former defensive coordinator (Vic Fangio).
But Thomas couldn’t find his way onto the 49ers’ 53-man roster and spent all of his rookie season and the first 14 weeks of 2013 on the practice squad.
As the story goes, Thomas came close to remaining on the 49ers practice squad on Dec. 10 of last year because he was sleeping while his agent kept calling and texting him and the Dolphins needed a quick answer before they moved on to somebody else.
Thomas then had to suit up five days later for the New England game because of injuries in the Dolphins secondary, although he played only special teams early in the game. When
Three plays before his memorable interception, Thomas made another great play, breaking up a pass at the goal line intended for Danny Amendola. Then came the fourth-and-5 from the Miami 14-yard line with seven seconds left.
Then came the interception, the play that earned Thomas a place in Dolphins lore, not to mention AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors.
“I’m constantly reminded of it,” Thomas says. “That was the biggest play of my career thus far. It’s still a great play. But now I want to build on it, I want to build on it. Not necessarily forget about it, but build on it.”