The history behind Earl Thomas' latest goal-line save

LOS ANGELES -- Earl Thomas gave the Seattle Seahawks the first of their five takeaways on Sunday when he forced a fumble on the Los Angeles Rams' opening possession. Running back Todd Gurley was reaching for the goal line when Seattle's All-Pro free safety chopped the ball out of his hand at the last second.

It went from a Rams touchdown -- which was how officials initially ruled it -- to possession for Seattle when an automatic review of the play showed that the ball bounced off the pylon for a touchback before Gurley broke the plane.

If that play looked familiar, it was for good reason.

Thomas made a virtually identical play in Week 17 of the 2014 season, when he saved a touchdown and forced a touchback when he stripped running back Benny Cunningham just shy of the goal line.

The similarities were remarkable. Same opponent. Same part of the field. Same result.

"I've never seen that play before Earl did it the first time, and he's done it twice," cornerback Richard Sherman said after the Seahawks' 16-10 win. "I've never seen anybody else do that and he did it both [times] to the Rams. It's crazy, but Earl's a heck of a player and deserves a lot of credit for never giving up and fighting until the last second."

That's something that Thomas regretted not doing on one play in the 2014 season, before his forced fumble at the goal line against the Rams. In Week 14 against the Philadelphia Eagles, tight end Zach Ertz caught a pass down the sideline over linebacker K.J. Wright. Thomas was closing in as Ertz tried to break free from Wright's grasp near the goal line, and as Ertz dived into the end zone, Thomas appeared to let up.

He may not have been able to affect the outcome of the play, but it didn't sit well with him when he watched it on film.

"We talked about it, and he was like, 'Yeah, gotta finish that play,'" strong safety Kam Chancellor said in 2015. "Then the Rams came up and he finished the play. He made a crazy play, the chop. It's just one of them things that me and Earl, we talked about. I just remembered from his experience and us talking."

Chancellor was revisiting Thomas' first goal-line save after making a similar one himself. He punched the ball out of Calvin Johnson's hands just before the receiver reached the end zone, preserving a Monday night win over the Detroit Lions in Week 4 of the 2015 season.

After that game, Sherman recited a favorite saying among Seattle's defensive players, one that's indicative of their emphasis on finishing plays: "Give us an inch of grass and we'll defend it. There was an inch left and he defended it."

And Thomas did that again Sunday.

"I saw a chance to strike on the ball," he said. "I did a great job, watching those Bruce Lee movies and trying to carry it over to the football field."

Coach Pete Carroll attributed it to something else.

"It's just another phenomenal statement about the guy's will to win, his grit, his competitiveness," Carroll said. "You know that he just will never let up and he just keeps on battling. That's who Earl is, and so I love that he has those moments where he's illustrated in such unique fashion that he can do those kinds of things. He's just an extraordinary player."