Cliff Avril is 31. Old enough to remember Michael Jordan being so brilliant and legendary in basketball NBA officials were widely believed to have their own set of calls reserved for Jordan to get benefits of doubt during games.
Avril thinks Aaron Rodgers is the NFL’s current version/recipient of such preferential treatment.
The Seahawks’ Pro Bowl defensive end wasn’t angry as much as he was incredulous at the illegal-block penalty Avril got for wholly unnecessary contact on the star quarterback in the first quarter of Seattle’s 17-9 loss Sunday in its season opener at Green Bay.
Avril’s foul cost the Seahawks a touchdown they never did score the rest of the day. Rookie defensive tackle Nazair Jones was returning his interception of Rodgers 64 yards for a score and what would have been a 7-0 lead for the Seahawks.
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Avril’s contact wasn’t hard to Rodgers’ shoulder, though it wasn’t completely from the front. And, as coach Pete Carroll said after the loss, it was totally unnecessary.
Still, Avril couldn’t believe he got flagged — and didn’t even know it until two quarters later.
“I didn’t even know it was on me until the third quarter when (teammate Richard Sherman) was like, ‘Did you know that was on you?’ I was like, ‘Uhhhhh….’
“Yeah, I bet they threw it as soon as I touched him. I guaranteed they threw a flag. But that stopped us from scoring…He is A-Rod. He is one of the best quarterbacks in the league…
“That was crazy.
“But some guys get the ‘Michael Jordan Rule.’”
GRAHAM’S SILENT DAY
Star tight end Jimmy Graham began the final season of his contract Seattle inherited when it traded Max Unger and a first-round pick to New Orleans for him in 2015.
And it wasn’t a sterling start.
After Russell Wilson was under siege behind the malfunctioning offensive line in the first quarter, the Seahawks began keeping Graham, second tight end Luke Willson, even running backs Tre Madden, Chris Carson and C.J. Prosise in to help on pass protection. At the end of helping, Graham would peel off into short, dump-off routes.
That’s why he had three catches for only 8 yards.
Wilson targeted Graham on two of the game’s bigger — and for Seattle, more frustrating — plays.
On third and goal from the 3 in the third quarter with the Seahawks down 7-3, Wilson scrambled away from more pressure and threw for the 6-foot-7 Graham in the back right of the end zone. Before the high pass arrived, two Packers hit Graham. The officials, two of them on the spot, did not throw a flag for pass interference.
Carroll said he was told it was because the officials deemed the throw uncatchable out of the back of the end zone. The coach noted he saw the ball land in the white, 3-yard, painted border that is immediately past the end line.
With 14 minutes left in the fourth quarter Seattle trailed 14-6 and had third and 3 at its own 44. Wilson threw a back-shoulder pass deep down the left sideline to Graham, who had beaten his defender deep in Packers territory. Graham turned to his left, had the ball on both hands—then dropped it.
Instead of being poised for a potential tying touchdown, the Seahawks punted for sixth and final time.
BENNETT’S REFRESHING DAY
Pro Bowl defensive end Michael Bennett saw his brother, Martellus, the Packers’ veteran tight end, and they talked – about everything but football. About tickets, family, kids, wives. Not the game.
“I never wish to play against him,” Michael Bennett said of his 6-foot-6, 275-pound brother, whom Green Bay signed this offseason after he won a Super Bowl with New England. “I try to pretend he’s not out there. But it’s kind of hard because he’s the biggest player on the field.”
Michael Bennett had 1 1/2 of Seattle’s four sacks of Rodgers in the first half. Bennett said the game itself was refreshing after the tumult of his lpast few weeks. Wednesday he said he’d been unnecessarily handcuffed and had a Las Vegas police officer point a gun near his head and threaten to blow it off Aug. 27 outside a casino. That was following a report of an active shooter inside that casino.
The police union in Las Vegas accused Bennett of false claims. A national controversy has ensued — and not just because Bennett again sat during the national anthem before Sunday’s game to protest how minorities are treated in the U.S.
Avril and Frank Clark came over to shake Bennett’s hand during the anthem, with Avril sitting, too, for the final seconds of it. Center Justin Britt again stood at Bennett’s side with a hand on his shoulder, as the teammate did before preseason games.
“It was good to be out there and be with the teammates again, be with the guys,” Bennett said. “It was a tough week, but you get through things. I was glad to be with my guys again. It was good to be on the football field again.
“I just talked to my wife. I talked to my kids. I knew that they love me. So I just kept pushing forward. A lot of great fans support. A lot of great organizational support, teammates support. So it was really easy. So much support system here.
“It went as good as it could be, preparing for the game. It’s always hard when you the eye of the whole world.”
LACY’S REUNION DAY
Former Packer Eddie Lacy had his Green Bay reunion, but was a non-factor.
Starting because Thomas Rawls was out injured with a high-ankle sprain suffered Aug. 13, Lacy gained 3 yards on five carries. He was on the sideline as Seattle chose Carson, Madden and Prosise to pass block — and in Carson’s case run six times for 39 yards.
Don’t be fooled by the Seahawks’ 90 yards officially on 18 carries. Two scrambles by Wilson gained 40 yards. So it was in reality 50 yards on 16 carries for running backs. The offense set as an emphasis in 2017 getting back to among the top 5 in the NFL in rushing, as it was for years under Carroll until it plummeted to 25th in 2016. Yet 3.1 yards per rush aren’t going to do it.
Tyler Lockett played for the first time since breaking his leg on Christmas Eve. He had one catch for 8 yards. He just missed a touchdown when Wilson overthrew him in the first half. Lockett also returned one punt for 7 yards while fair catching four others; another of his punt returns for 7 yards got called back by a penalty on Madden. Lockett also returned three kickoffs for 91 yards including a 43-yard run back to start the game. Seattle punted after that great field position, too.
EXTRA POINTS: Time of possession was Green Bay 39:13, Seattle 20:47. … New DT Sheldon Richardson had three tackles and a hit on Rodgers. He almost had a sack, but Rodgers threw it away just before Richardson took him to the turf.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle