Michael Thomas returned to the field for the first time since a Week 1 ankle injury in the New Orleans Saints’ 38-3 demolition of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Since Thomas last played — and last talked to the media — a lot has happened. Initially, it was the ankle injury, then he was disciplined by the team for punching teammate Chauncey Gardner-Johnson in practice, and lately, he’s been dealing with a hamstring injury.
Thomas noted after the primetime victory over the division rivals that he’s grown through it all, particularly the practice scuffle.
“My emotions got the best of me in that situation,” Thomas said, via Luke Johnson of The Times-Picayune. “I’ve grown from that, and I’m here to help my team win games and finish the mission: To win a championship.”
Thomas also lived through a brief period where he was the subject of trade rumors and suggestions that he or his reps were trying to push the team to trade him.
“I can’t pay attention to any of that,” Thomas said. “I’m just trying to put my head down, get back and get out there and help my team.”
Help them, he did.
In his return, Thomas led the Saints with 51 receiving yards on five catches with a team-high six targets. New Orleans wanted to bring their star wideout back slowly after he missed six games. Luckily the blowout win afforded Sean Payton the luxury of sitting Thomas early after just 40 snaps (55 percent).
“This is really the first time coming back off an injury ever for him in the NFL,” Payton said. “We wanted to be smart relative to the pitch count, but he handled it well. I’m really proud of him.
“It was really good to see him get in the flow of the game, because I think sometimes the mistake can be how much we use him in that first week back.”
Thomas’ presence on the field opens up the rest of the offense, and Drew Brees’ life becomes immensely easier with his big-bodied target patrolling the middle and gobbling up first downs. It’s no coincidence that Thomas’ return coincided with the Saints’ highest offensive output this season. If he stays healthy, we’ll finally see the offense Payton planned to deploy this season as New Orleans plows toward the postseason.
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