A record-setting performance got lost among all of Tampa Bay’s offensive fireworks Sunday.
Or at least it was lost on the man who set it.
Unstoppable except for a pair of mistakes of his own making, Michael Thomas served as the engine that kept the New Orleans offense running in a 48-40 loss, hauling in a franchise-record 16 catches for 180 yards and one touchdown.
But Thomas brushed aside any talk about the record after the game.
“You can’t take anything positive away from a game like that,” Thomas said. “We’re a team. We win together, lose together, so that would be selfish to worry about stats from one game.”
A Pro Bowl receiver who has more receptions in his first two seasons than any player in NFL history, Thomas entered the season primed to take his rightful place among the league’s elite receivers.
Always a weapon Thomas opened his third season on Sunday against a Buccaneers secondary forced to play without its best cornerback, Brent Grimes, who was lost to a groin injury late in the week.
Sensing blood, Drew Brees used Thomas like a sword, slicing the Buccaneers from start to finish with a series of devastating cuts that added up quickly.
“He certainly got a lot of opportunities,” Brees said. “I think it was 16 catches in 17 targets, and the other one, I’d bet he say he should have had. He’s fun to throw to.”
A couple of blemishes — two self-inflicted, one from the outside — kept Thomas from pitching a perfect game.
A referee’s mistake caused the first, erasing the kind of heads-up play that makes Thomas such a devastating receiver. Always aware of his surroundings, Thomas made a diving catch for 5 yards, realized he’d never been touched by a Buccaneers defender, got to his feet and raced away with what should have been a 75-yard touchdown.
Except an official had whistled him down, a mistake that rendered the play dead and took away any chance Saints coach Sean Payton had of challenging it.
Payton was furious in the moment, but after the way the rest of the game went, the Saints coach wasn’t willing to put too much blame on the officials for the missed call.
“That’s not the frustration right now,” Payton said. “It’s not going to be a perfect game.”
Thomas, typically tough-minded, rendered the mistake somewhat irrelevant eight plays later, when he got free for a 6-yard touchdown pass at the end of the same drive.
“It was hard,” Thomas said. “You know, you want to put points on the board for your team, help out the defense, you want to contribute and add value. You just have to respond.”
Thomas’ other mistakes came on two consecutive drives in the third quarter.
A drop at the first-down marker ended up forcing the Saints to punt it away on one drive, and then Thomas’ tenacity got the best of him. Undaunted by an official’s earlier mistake, Thomas realized he hadn’t been downed after making a catch over the middle, got up and raced 19 yards, but he fumbled at the end of the play.
“It was very uncharacteristic, undisciplined, and I take the blame on myself so it doesn’t happen again,” Thomas said. “I’ll get it corrected.”
Thomas made up for any of the mistakes by taking the kind of pounding normally reserved for a running back. Nearly all of Thomas’ catches were short to intermediate throws that required him to make a move in the open field and absorb a hit.
Not that the star receiver minded.
Whether it’s six catches or 16, Thomas is always thinking the same thing when the ball is thrown his way.
“I’ve just got to make the play, for the whole team, for the whole organization,” Thomas said.
He’s certainly off to a good start this season.