What exactly are the Seahawks? Are they closer to the team that stumbled out to records of 0-2, 2-3, and 4-5? Or to the team that then reeled off four wins in a row and looked entirely ready to come into Santa Clara and claim a playoff berth on their lowly rivals’ home field? Or the team that promptly barfed up a chance to clinch on Sunday, losing not because of its efficient-as-ever offense, but because it couldn’t stop taking penalties?
Seattle fell 26-23 in overtime to the Niners, a sloppy loss that saw breakdowns in pass coverage, a botched kickoff coverage, a missed extra point, and 14 penalties—10 after halftime—for 148 yards, a franchise record. Offensive penalties sabotaged the Seahawks’ final three possessions, but it was a controversial defensive pass interference call on CB Shaquill Griffin in OT that sealed things going the other way.
Griffin was in coverage on Dante Pettis and appeared to bat away the ball cleanly, but he was flagged for DPI. Instead of facing a third-and-15 from their own 44, the Niners had a new set of downs from Seattle’s 41, and would kick the game-winning field goal four plays later. “A terrible call,” Griffin complained later.
Griffin later retweeted a replay of the penalty, writing, “Have To Adjust My Game?”
Making it all the worse, Griffin said he had been hypervigilant of how tightly the officials had been calling the game, and specifically tried not to draw a flag.
“I kinda knew they was going to try to call a penalty on someone the way they were calling penalties on [Seattle’s] offense,” Griffin said. “and I made sure as soon as I saw the pass in the air I was going to stick my hand out, knock it down and roll over, and that’s exactly what I did. And when I sat up I looked at the ref and he threw it. It’s something I can’t take back, and it sucks the way it ended. But it was a terrible call.”
It was, perhaps, a classic trap game for the Seahawks, though to a man they all denied taking the Niners lightly. There are no more potential trap games left. Next week they’re home in primetime against the Chiefs, who because of their own loss this week, will need a win to wrap up the AFC’s top seed. If Seattle loses that one, they’ll be home in Week 17 against the truly putrid Cardinals, likely needing a win to make the postseason. So they’ll probably be in, one way or another. But what about after that?
The NFC’s first-week playoff picture is filled with talented but supremely flawed teams, all of whom can look like worldbeaters one week and trash the next. The Seahawks have already played the other three teams currently in the picture for wild card weekend, losing to the Bears but beating the Vikings and Cowboys—who they’d play if the season ended today. This is the muddle of mediocrity which Seattle could’ve floated above with a win against a bad team on Sunday, and could’ve spent the season’s final two weeks resting and getting healthy. Not that Pete Carroll teams have particularly been known for that; he’s always preferred to go into the playoffs at full speed. Still, he’d have liked the option: “We’re well aware of that,” Carroll said of the chance to clinch, “but just not today, there’s no silver linings in this today.”