Loss of Earl Thomas big hit to Seattle’s playoff plans

SEATTLE (AP) — The missing necktie that cost Carolina’s Cam Newton one play is insignificant compared to what the Seattle Seahawks lost on Sunday night.

There is no replacing Earl Thomas and all he means to Seattle’s stingy defense. Now, the Seahawks must play the rest of the regular season and likely a big chunk of the postseason without their star safety.

“You can’t make up for it,” defensive end Michael Bennett said. “You just try to find some others who can do half of what he does.”

Seattle’s 40-7 romp over the Panthers kept the Seahawks on track for another NFC West title. They are three games ahead of Arizona with four remaining, and Seattle (8-3-1) moved back in front of Detroit for a coveted first-round bye.

But playoff positioning or Seattle reaching the 40-point mark for the first time since its Super Bowl rout of Denver was secondary to Thomas’ broken lower left leg. Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said Thomas has a cracked tibia and the injury is “always six weeks,” but his status for a possible return during the postseason remains very much in question.

Thomas missed the first game of his pro career last week when he sat out against Tampa Bay due to a hamstring injury. He returned just 14 days after first getting hurt and lasted less than two quarters before the course of Seattle’s season changed.

Thomas collided with teammate Kam Chancellor as both attempted to intercept a pass from Newton. True to Thomas’ nature, he was talking about the break he made on the ball as he laid on the ground in pain, teammate Richard Sherman said.

“We’re all going to miss the heck out of Earl because we love having that guy back there,” Carroll said. “But we don’t get to.”

Seattle will rely on Steven Terrell to fill Thomas’ role as the center fielder patrolling the back of the defense. Terrell has played well in his limited opportunities, but now will be counted on for an…