Lawrence Thomas is no longer a secret weapon for the New York Jets.
The big defensive lineman has also been used through the first few weeks of the season as a fullback, and even had a 15-yard reception against Miami two weeks ago. Thomas performed so well in the role that the Jets made the move more than just a wrinkle in the offense by changing his jersey number from 97 to 44.
“It feels good that I’m over there with the offense now,” Thomas said. “I can just help them and create more plays and make more plays. I’m glad I got a number change, too, because I had to keep reporting to the referee every time I checked in.”
The in-game announcements of “No. 97 is reporting as eligible” increased to the point that coach Todd Bowles and his staff decided they might as well make it official.
“He’s going to line up at fullback, but he’ll play defense in emergencies,” Bowles said.
Thomas last played the position on a regular basis during his freshman season at Michigan State in 2012, when he blocked for future All-Pro Le’Veon Bell. Thomas also caught seven passes for 78 yards for the Spartans before switching exclusively to defensive line.
“It’s like coming full circle, for sure,” he said. “I’m just kind of re-tuning all of my skills and going back to what I did through Little League and high school and college.”
The Jets had no fullback officially listed on the roster when they started tinkering a few weeks ago with using the 6-foot-3, 286-pound Thomas in the backfield. He impressed the coaching staff and has been a big part of the team’s success on the ground, including helping New York run for 256 yards last Sunday against Jacksonville.
Thomas, who also plays on special teams, said his approach to blocking is the same as it is for when he needs to tackle an opponent.
“I’m just trying to hit the dude,” he said with a big smile. “I’m trying to make him feel me, so I can clear the hole for the running backs so they have a clear lane.”
GROWING UP: Raiders punter Marquette King once again found himself on the wrong side of a personal foul penalty. King got called for his fourth personal foul in the past two seasons when he threw a ball at Denver’s Andy Janovich after getting stopped on a fake punt last week against the Broncos.
King was called for one horse-collar tackle and two unsportsmanlike conduct penalties last season. No other punter has had a personal foul enforced against his team the past two years.
“It’s a matter of being mature enough to put the team ahead of yourself and being able to handle those emotions when you’re disappointed,” coach Jack Del Rio said. “Sometimes you’re disappointed and you want to lash out because it maybe makes you feel good for about three seconds. Then you deal with the consequences. Those weren’t good consequences.”
The Raiders have put up with these antics from King, who is also known to dance on the field after pinning opponents deep with a punt, because he is so good with his leg. King leads the league with a 52.6-yard gross average, as well as a 47.5-yard net average. Both are on pace to set records, breaking the marks of 51.4 yards gross by Sammy Baugh in 1940 and 46 yards net by the Rams’ Johnny Hekker last year.
HAVING HIS CAKE: Martellus Bennett always has a way with words. This week’s entertaining analogy from the Green Bay Packers’ tight end had to do with baking cakes.
Bennett was answering a question on when during his career did his focus shift from individual statistics to winning championships. Apparently, the victory in the Super Bowl during his one year in New England was the piece de resistance.
“Once you taste that championship cake, and you figure out what it takes, you just want to taste that again,” Bennett said. “Individual cake is all good, a cake that you bake yourself is always going to be all right.
“But when the team, when a lot of people are involved in the cooking process of baking the cake, it just seems to taste better,” he continued, “because of the joy that we’re seeing from multiple people, multiple hands on the pie.”
Bennett is off to a decent start with 17 catches for 141 yards, though he has yet to find the end zone. Blocking has also been more of a priority than usual of late with injuries along the Packers’ offensive line.
WEARY TRAVELERS: By the time the Ravens return from Oakland on Sunday night, they will have traveled more than 24,000 miles across nine times zones.
Baltimore made its first trip to London on Sept. 24, stayed home last week and left for a cross-country trip on Friday. It’s all part of the job, and the Ravens aren’t not blaming time on the airplane for their two-game skid on the field.
“You don’t think too much about it when you’re a player. You just go out there and play,” quarterback Joe Flacco said.
Going out west is one thing. Crossing the Atlantic Ocean for a football game is another. After the Ravens got beat by Jacksonville 44-7 in London, coach John Harbaugh said he had no intention of going back.
“I’m not planning on having that conundrum again for a while,” he said earlier this week. “We’ll see how that goes, but I think teams going out there have had their issues, for sure, and then even coming back.”
In its first game back, Baltimore looked listless in a 26-9 loss to Pittsburgh last Sunday.
FUN WITH NUMBERS: The Seattle Seahawks are on a unique run in NFL history.
One time in each of Pete Carroll’s eight seasons in Seattle, the Seahawks have won a game with a final score that has never happened before in NFL history. The latest came last Sunday when the Seahawks beat the Colts 46-18, the first 46-18 game in league history.
The fact the Seahawks run of unique final scores has reached eight seasons is likely more remarkable than some of the strange scores they have been a part of.
“This is a significant stat. … I think that’s freaking awesome,” Carroll said. “Isn’t that cool? How does that happen? It could happen once or twice, but it’s happened eight years in a row. I don’t know if that’s happened before. I love that.”
The other games: 2010 vs. Cardinals (36-18); 2011 vs. Giants (36-25); 2012 vs. Cardinals (58-0); 2013 vs. Broncos in Super Bowl (43-8); 2014 vs. Packers (36-16); 2015 vs. Steelers (39-30); and 2016 vs. 49ers (37-18).
IGNORING TRASH TALK: Eagles right tackle Lane Johnson is getting used to hearing opponents take shots at him for serving a 10-game suspension last year for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing supplements. Johnson says Chargers defensive tackle Damion Square, a former teammate in 2013, called him “Roid Boy” when they met last Sunday.
“When we got on the field, we settled it,” Johnson said. “He was joking and having fun, but it was still the kind of stuff that will kind of make you mad.”
Johnson, the fourth overall pick in the 2013 draft, is a vital part of Philadelphia’s offensive line. The Eagles were 5-1 with him last season, 2-8 without. They’re 3-1 this season.
“I think I help this team,” Johnson said. “I’m not trying to be arrogant. I think when I’m in there, I definitely help this team out.”
AP Pro Football Writers Barry Wilner, Rob Maaddi and Josh Dubow, and Sports Writers David Ginsburg, Tim Booth, Dennis Waszak Jr. and Genaro C. Armas contributed.