Dave Boling

Boling: Seahawks can’t let games be decided by whistles and flags

One by one, the Seahawks have cured themselves of their most chronic shortcomings.

The East Coast trips? Traveling’s a breeze.

The 10 a.m. kickoffs? They’re early risers when necessary.

The occasional inexplicable letdowns? Consist effort is never an issue.

But penalties? Yeah, that’s still a concern as they prepare for the playoffs starting Saturday at home when they host the Carolina Panthers.

And it’s not just a matter of their own violations, but of dubious officiating, too.

All of this becomes more serious in the playoffs when one call — like the botched pass interference ruling in the Dallas-Detroit game Sunday — sends one team home for the year.

For most of this season, the Seahawks have dealt with disproportionate flagging the best way possible: by being so far superior in the other aspects of the game that it doesn’t decide the outcome.

They lead the NFL in pre-snap penalties such as false starts, which seems inexcusable. But we are reminded that they led the league in penalties last season and ended up winning the Super Bowl in a blowout, so it didn’t exactly slow them down.

Denver, their Super Bowl opponent, was second in the league in penalties, so it almost seems a counterintuitive indicator of success.

What has had coach Pete Carroll distressed most of the season was the absurd gap between Seahawks penalties and opponent flags.

The most penalized team in the NFL was the Seahawks (130). The least penalized team in the NFL? The Seahawks’ 16 opponents (70). That makes a net difference of 60 penalties. The team with the next highest disparity is New England (28 more than opponents).

Seattle and Carolina have allowed opponents the fewest points in the last month of the season, so the game Saturday is expected to resemble the past three games with Carolina, where very few points hit the board and each possession was crucial.

In those types of games, a call here or there can make the difference.

Ask the Lions.

Detroit tight end Brandon Pettigrew was obviously held by Cowboys linebacker Anthony Hitchens when the Lions were driving in hopes of adding to their 20-17 lead in the wild-card round on Sunday.

A flag was thrown for pass interference. A discussion among officials led to the flag being picked up.

The league and official later conceded that it was miscalled and poorly administered.

But by the time the league admitted the mistake, the Lions had turned in their gear and the Cowboys were game planning for the divisional game against the Packers in Green Bay.

Other factors contributed to the Lions losing that game, but that call in that situation had an inordinate impact on the game.

Green Bay fans will eternally lament the 2012 Golden Tate catch in the end zone that gave Seattle a 14-12 win on the game’s last play.

Debate over a simultaneous possession ruling overshadowed the fact that Tate got away with one of the all-time blatant offensive pass interferences. But it would have been more controversial in the postseason.

The win in the last Super Bowl might finally help Seattle fans heal from the calls made against their club in Super Bowl XL against Pittsburgh.

The league and officials all conceded that calls were botched. But when talking to players afterward, they mostly remember that they didn’t play very well, there were a lot of dropped passes and they didn’t make very good adjustments to what the Steelers were doing.

Most of the players I’ve asked about that game didn’t really notice officiating issues until the fans kept asking about them.

Part of their perception, I’m sure, is that they still had plenty of time in the game to come back from the bad calls.

The problem truly comes when a close game is decided so late.

Closer to home for Seahawks fans, and more recent, was a ruling late in the game at Kansas City on Nov. 16. The Hawks turned the ball over on downs three times in the fourth quarter, but still had another chance to take the ball away with time to score the game-winning touchdown.

But what looked like a timely strip and fumble recovery was not called in the Seahawks’ favor. The Chiefs killed the clock and the loss was in the books.

This season, officials have seemed uncomfortable with the consistent interpretation of the new points of emphasis, particularly in pass defense.

When they get in a close game in Dallas, maybe they’re thinking too much or distracted by the circumstances.

The best defense against it is the approach the Seahawks have used all season. Don’t let the game come down to a whistle and a flag.

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