Hawks are back at the top — like it or not

Pete Carroll talks with line judge Jeff Seeman and referee Tony Corrente before Seattle's game at Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara, Calif. (Getty)
Not a good sign: This was Pete Carroll talking with line judge Jeff Seeman and referee Tony Corrente BEFORE Seattle was called for a season-high 14 penalties against the 49ers (Getty)

You know the Seahawks are back to normal when they are No. 1 again — not just in defense but in penalties.

It’s fairly obvious the two go hand in hand on Pete Carroll’s club.

When the defense is playing like it has the past two weeks, the Hawks can pretty easily overcome high penalty totals. Just ask all of the Hawks who were on the team in 2013, when the Hawks walked off with their first Super Bowl title despite leading the league in flags.

After drawing a season-worst 14 penalties for 105 yards Thursday in a 19-3 domination of the San Francisco 49ers, the Hawks once again lead the NFL in penalties. They had been as low as fourth over the last few weeks, but they have assumed their accustomed place.

The refs made one particularly poor call — negating a touchdown — but they also missed a couple of other fouls the Hawks obviously committed.

The Seahawks had a league-high 39 pre-snap fouls (false starts, offsides, etc.) before Thursday, and they added five more — six if you count an offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct on Tharold Simon.

Simon has replaced Brandon Browner as Seattle’s penalty machine at cornerback. He was called for holding on a fair catch, defensive holding, unsportsmanlike conduct (offsetting) and illegal contact vs. the 49ers. He has 10 penalties since making his NFL debut in Week 7 — that’s 1.4 per game.

At that rate, he would lead the NFL — as Browner once did — over a full season. But teammate Michael Bennett has that distinction this season. The defensive lineman has 11 fouls (not including one that was declined), and eight of them have come on pre-snap flags.

Left tackle Russell Okung has seven penalties (although he committed none Thursday) — two off his career high of nine set in 2012. Cornerback Byron Maxwell has seven as well — he was called for holding in San Francisco.

Most of Seattle’s penalties stem from the players’ aggressiveness, and Carroll does not want them to ease off.

“We want to play smart. And whenever we give up stuff and give opponents an easy go at it … we don’t feel like we’re helping ourselves,” he told 710 ESPN on Friday. “But we’re not going to change the way we’re playing. The style of play that generates this kind of focus from the officials is somewhat emblematic of us. I don’t want our guys to back off.”

What he would like though is for the refs to call some penalties on the other guys. The Seahawks now have an unfathomable penalty differential of minus-4.25 per game — a number that would blow away any differential over at least the last 25 years in the NFL (per sportingcharts.com).

The only team remotely close is Denver, which is at minus-3 flags per game. The Patriots, who now have Browner (seven flags), are third at minus-2.45. And the rest of the teams are below minus-2.

The game vs. the 49ers seems liked it might be a rare contest in which the refs did not favor the opponent. The 49ers drew four flags (one declined) in the first quarter and a half — but that’s all they ended up with: three for 20 yards. They committed at least a couple of other obvious holds that were not called.

Seattle-San Francisco games typically are full of flags: Last season, they combined for 22 penalties in the first meeting and 15 in the second. This time the Hawks alone nearly matched the total of their last game.

This was the third straight game the Hawks have had a major disadvantage in the penalty category. Earlier this season, the Hawks had a three-game stretch in which they drew 32 flags and their opponents were called just 11 times. They are on another such run of officiating bias, having been assessed 29 fouls to their opponents’ nine in the last three games — a net of 178 lost yards.

The only game the officiating has really cost them is the one in Kansas City, where the officials failed to call a key pass interference in the end zone against the Chiefs late in the game — the NFL admitted the game-affecting error after the fact.

Carroll doesn’t complain too much about the fouls his team draws, but his frustration level with the biased NFL referees is clearly at an all-time high because they won’t flag the other teams.

“I wish the game would be balanced out with our opponents being penalized equally,” he repeated for the umpteenth time Friday on 710 ESPN. “But there’s nothing we can do about it. We just keep playing football.

“If you guys take a look at the disparity between the penalties called on us and called on our opponents by the same crew in the same game, that’s really startling. I don’t know what to tell you,” he said, without mentioning the ridiculous minus-4.25 number. “What I tell our team is we’re going to have to play over and above whatever the calls are, as always. We’ve never worried about it and focused on that as a negative. It’s just kind of what happens. In some crazy way, there may be even a little sign of respect in there from the officials. It just seems like we draw a lot of attention. We are pretty crazy and wild the way we play, and we don’t want to change that.”


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