In a loss like the Seahawks suffered in St. Louis — rallying from a horrible first half to lose by two — it is easy to assume that any complaint about the officiating is simply sour grapes and poor sportsmanship.
But Earl Thomas merely stated the obvious when he said, “We’re playing the referees, too.”
We are not just referencing the controversial final play to the game in which the Rams fumbled and Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman appeared to recover with about a minute left.
The St. Louis game was the third in a row in which NFL officials have quite obviously favored Seattle’s opponent.
In those three games, Seattle has been flagged 32 times for 237 yards. Their opponents have been penalized a mere 11 times for 96 yards.
For the season, Seattle opponents have been flagged a league-low 29 times — and it certainly isn’t because they have committed just 29 fouls. They have been called for 51, which is tied for seventh most. They led the league in penalties last season.
“If you really look at some plays, we’re playing (against) more than our opponents,” Thomas said. “We’re playing the referees, too. I don’t care what anybody is saying. Something is wrong. That needs to be brought up.”
On Sunday, the Hawks were flagged 10 times for 89 yards, while the Rams were docked twice for 20 yards — and one was an intentional delay of game for five yards.
It’s not that the Hawks didn’t deserve most of those penalties. It’s that the Rams committed many more than they were called for.
The refs were at their worst in the fourth quarter, with the game in the balance. Every call/non-call went against Seattle.
During Seattle’s 91-yard TD drive to start the final quarter, the refs missed two blatant helmet/facemask tackles by the Rams — on Russell Wilson’s 52-yard run and on Robert Turbin’s 6-yard pass gain. In addition, the holding call against Alvin Bailey that nullified Marshawn Lynch’s 15-yard TD run was very questionable — Bailey’s hands were inside the defender’s frame the entire time. (Wilson threw a TD pass to Cooper Helfet on the next play anyway.)
On the ensuing drive, Bruce Irvin was hooked by Benny Cunningham on a pass rush as Austin Davis completed a 13-yard pass on first down. That should have backed up the Rams to a first-and-20 at their 29.
Two plays later, Brandon Mebane was begging for a flag after he was thrown to the ground by guard Greg Robinson, who then landed on Mebane the exact same way James Carpenter landed on a player he had blocked to the ground against Washington. Carpenter’s “cover your guy” block resulted in a personal foul that killed a touchdown by Percy Harvin. Robinson wasn’t called for a hold or a personal foul.
The Rams also could have been called for 12 in the huddle on that drive. Pete Carroll was pointing it out, and the refs let the Rams take a timeout.
The Rams scored the clinching TD on that 80-yard drive, but they could/should have been penalized two or three times.
The Washington game was just as bad. In Washington, Harvin had three scores called back — two of them on bogus penalties. Seattle was penalized 13 times for 90 yards, while Washington was flagged three times for 30 yards.
In the Dallas game, the overall numbers were pretty even — Seattle had nine for 58 and Dallas six for 46 — but the refs missed some obvious holds by the Dallas offensive line.
And then referee Bill Leavy — he of Super Bowl XL Controversy infamy — “kicked” another call when he wrongly flagged Sherman for tripping on a tackle (Sherman did not use his legs, and Carroll said the refs admitted they screwed up).
Leavy made the same bogus call against Matt Hasselbeck in the Super Bowl — and apologized several years later, saying he “kicked a couple calls.”
The end of the Rams game was emblematic of the NFL’s officiating problem in Seattle games.
NFL head ref Dean Blandino said they reviewed the fumble in New York and saw no reason to reverse it.
“We looked at all available angles,” he tweeted. “No evidence of who recovered ball. Ball still loose and then went into pile.”
Sherman disagreed: “I had the ball. I was down. I thought they would have blown the whistle, but they stopped the ball and moved it back to the old spot. … I wasn’t surprised. That’s kind of how the game went for us.”
As Thomas concluded, “We’ve got to understand who we’re battling now. We’re battling the referees now.”
It’s not sour grapes. It’s not poor sportsmanship. It’s just the way it is.