In Sunday's AFC Championship game, the New England Patriots hoped to slow down Thomas with sensational shadow cornerback Aqib Talib. Though his season was somewhat marred by injuries, Talib has been extremely tough to throw on this year, allowing just a 72.3 passer rating on throws into his coverage.
Thomas had just one catch with Talib shadowing him in the first quarter, but the Patriots caught a rough break on a pick play in the second quarter. Slot receiver Wes Welker came over the middle, and as the ball reached Thomas' body as he crossed from the other side of the ball, Welker laid a crushing blow to a trailing Talib. The star corner was taken to the locker room with rib and knee injuries.
After the game, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick ripped Welker for the play, which he considered to have shown a complete lack of sportsmanship. "It is a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib," Belichick said, maintaining his typical straight face and painfully dull tone. "No attempt to get open. And I'll let the league handle the discipline on that play. It's not for me to decide, but it's one of the worst plays I've seen. And that's all I'm going to say about that."
Some believe that Welker's hit was cheap and dirty, but I'm not buying into Belichick's complaint on this one. The pick play is a staple of not just the Broncos' offense, but the Patriots' offense as well. In addition, Welker hit Talib just as the ball hit Thomas' shoulder, maybe a fraction (a very small fraction) of a second earlier. If Welker were to hit Talib at or after the point at which the ball hit Thomas, it would be completely legal as far as offensive pass interference. To top it all off, the hit was above the waist. It is safe to wonder if a different player would have been fine after that hit, as Talib has looked prone to injury this year and hasn't played more than 13 games in a season since 2009.
Here is a look at the hit, so you can decide for yourself whether Belichick's harsh words were warranted: