CLEVELAND (AP) – The last great hope for the Browns faded Sunday.
Rock-hard and shatter-proof, Joe Thomas missed an offensive play, and he’s going to miss many more.
Cleveland’s iron man left tackle sustained a serious injury to his left triceps and could miss the remainder of another losing season for the Browns.
The 10-time Pro Bowler had played 10,363 consecutive snaps when he was forced to leave the field in the third quarter of a 12-9 overtime loss to the Tennessee Titans.
The sight of Thomas curled in a ball and yelling in agony was unnerving for everyone.
“It’s kind of unbelievable,” said Browns left guard Joel Bitonio. “I thought he was a superhuman, where nothing could happen to him. There were about 30 seconds out there where I teared up. It’s tough because he’s the best player on our team.”
Thomas is more than that. He’s the face of Cleveland’s franchise, and the embodiment of a pro’s pro, a player beyond reproach – on and off the field.
He will undergo an MRI on Monday, but it’s safe to assume that the 32-year-old will miss weeks if not months.
“That one is really personal to me,” said Browns coach Hue Jackson, who has grown close to Thomas. “He is a huge part of what we do, a huge part of this organization. We will see where that is, but that was a big blow.”
Following the game, Thomas had his arm in a sling and it was wrapped heavily from his fingers to his shoulder. Thomas struggled to explain exactly what happened and seemed shocked by the stunning development in his 11th season.
“It was a routine run play. I’ve done it a million times,” he said. “It was probably a freak injury. It’s a violent game, and these type of things happen. Immediately after it happens, you’re kind of in an out-of-body experience a little bit.”
Thomas’ injury came at the end of a 3-yard gain by running back Duke Johnson with 5:44 left in the third. When Thomas didn’t get up, there was an audible gasp in FirstEnergy Stadium as No. 73 laid on his back. The crowd then fell silent as the team’s medical staff rushed to him.
As Thomas was being treated, several of his teammates knelt near him and Jackson ran onto the field.
Titans Pro Bowl left tackle Taylor Lewan went out and consoled Thomas as Cleveland’s crowd rose into a standing ovation when it became apparent one of the team’s best all-time players wouldn’t be able to continue after starting his 167th straight game.
The No. 3 overall pick in 2007, Thomas had been virtually indestructible during his 11 seasons. He has played through numerous injuries and his consecutive snaps streak is believed to be the longest in league history. The NFL did not officially track snap counts until 1999.
“Getting over that 10,000 milestone without missing a play is something that I always feel like I will be able to hang my hat on and be proud of,” he said. “It is a violent game and those type of streaks are going to come to an end. It was not an infinity streak. There was going to be a time when it came to an end either because of injury or just lack production.
“It was going to end. It was just matter of time.”
Lewan was visibly moved by seeing Thomas hurt.
“I got to know Joe a little bit at the Pro Bowl,” he said. “The whole line was taken aback. We all saw him go down and the whistle blew. I can’t say enough good things about that guy. He’s what you strive to be as an offensive lineman. You don’t get a lot of accolades. To make 10 Pro Bowls in 10 years, it’s unheard of, it’s unmatched.
“To have 10,400 and some snaps, I mean, my God, my heart really goes out to the guy. I really appreciate his friendship and what he’s done for me.”
Browns quarterback Cody Kessler said he had to refocus his teammates in the huddle after Thomas went out.
“Obviously, guys were excited and emotional in the sense of, ‘Hey, let’s do it for him. Let’s get up. Let’s do it for Joe,'” said Kessler, who came in for rookie DeShone Kizer. “I walked in and said, ‘I love you guys. Take a deep breath. We lost our brother, but he is going to be all right. We are going to win this for him.’
“At the end, unfortunately, we were not able to do that. When you have a guy like that who is someone you want to play for and whether he is on the field or not, a guy you want to play for and a guy that you have the most respect for. We are praying for him, and we hope he comes back really fast.”