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It’s been more than two years since Richard Sherman and Earl Thomas were on the field at the same time, as teammates with the Seattle Seahawks. When they face each other for the first time (when both are active on Sunday—Thomas wasn’t active for either of the 49ers and Seahawks’ meetings last season), it will be as Super Bowl contenders in either conference.
The 9-2 Baltimore Ravens have the MVP-favorite in Lamar Jackson, and with him, Mark Ingram II, three starting-caliber tight ends and a dominant offensive line. They have the most imposing run game in the National Football League, with an astounding 210.5 yards per game average. The 49ers sit second in the NFL in that category, with a paltry 145.6 yards per game.
Their defense has improved over the course of the season, and the Ravens beat last year’s Super Bowl contenders, the Los Angeles Rams and New England Patriots, by a combined 56 points, the greatest combined margin in NFL history any team has beaten the previous year’s Super Bowl contenders.
After early-season losses in back-to-back weeks to the Kansas City Chiefs and Cleveland Browns, the Ravens have rattled off seven-straight wins, and are viewed by some as the favorites to win the AFC.
Thomas thinks so. He was nonplussed when asked about potentially facing the 49ers, or anyone else in the Super Bowl.
“It could be, let’s see. We’ll just go out there and try to play the best football we can possibly do,” Thomas said. “And when the Super Bowl comes, whoever we play, they’re going to be in trouble.”
Ravens’ S Earl Thomas to reporters today: “You think the 49ers are going to the Super Bowl? It could be, let’s see. We’ll just go out there and try to play the best football we can possibly do. And when the Super Bowl comes, whoever we play, they’re going to be in trouble.”
— Adam Schefter (@AdamSchefter) November 27, 2019
His comments were blown somewhat out of proportion, and viewed errantly, by some, as a dig at the 49ers, rather than the general expression of confidence they appeared to be. Sherman was equally unfazed by Thomas’ comments, praising his former teammate for a likely future in the Hall of Fame.
“He a grown man. He gets the right say whatever he wants,” Sherman said. That’s why it’s free country, it makes me no nevermind. At the end of the day, the game speaks for itself on Sunday, you know the score will speak for itself, whatever that will be. And then at the end of February, whoever’s playing will be playing. He didn’t really say anything that personally offended me at all. If he did then then there will be a conversation…
“I think you got generational players that played a game at an incredibly high level and it’s not coincidental that where we go, you know, there’s success. I expected him to have success, I expected his team to have success. I’m happy that we’re having success and we’re playing good football. He’ll get a gold jacket into this at the end of his playing days so that’ll be great, he’s one of the best safeties to ever play this game.”
While Sherman has proven and admitted he’ll use any perceived slight as motivation, the media gushing over the Ravens and Jackson is not one of those instances.
He expressed a sense of happiness for Jackson’s success, and proof that the early criticisms of him — many of which were motivated by race and outdated views of what an NFL quarterback “should look like” — were as errant as they are now.
“The kid deserves it, he’s playing good football. It’s good for black quarterbacks,” Sherman said. “I think it’s been a long time, it’s been a rhetoric around this league that black quarterbacks have to run or black quarterbacks can’t do this or this league is always a drop back quarterback league. When it was zone read and it was Cam [Newton], it was like, ‘Oh man this is a one-hit wonder this is a one year [thing],’ and this kid is being dynamic, he’s taken over the league. I think the highest passer ratings right now all black quarterback so it’s real cool time for the league.”
Sherman is (mostly) right. While Kirk Cousins has the NFL lead with a 114.8 passer rating, the next three highest-rated quarterbacks are, in order, Russell Wilson (112.1) Jackson (111.4) and Patrick Mahomes (110.0).
Asked whether he thinks that criticism of black quarterbacks will ever change, Sherman told KNBR he’s not optimistic.
“I don’t know. I don’t think people want it to change,” Sherman said. “I think this is a league that’s always old school. This is the same league that still makes people measure and do 40-yard dashes even though the most elite players in this game aren’t always the fastest players in this game. So I don’t think it’s going anywhere. I think it’s just an old-school, old mentality that just unfortunately hasn’t changed.”