SAN FRANCISCO — The flaw is not a new one. It’s just rarely been exposed so starkly.
Every Monday, the day referred to as “tell the truth Monday,” the Seahawks go over film and poke at problems from their most recent game. A common topic this season: penalties. As in, too many of them.
Here’s the truth from Sunday’s 19-17 loss against San Francisco, a defeat that doesn’t derail Seattle from its larger goals but still stings: The Seahawks lost in large part because they had too many penalties in too many critical moments.
They were penalized nine times for 85 yards; the 49ers had seven penalties for 70 yards.
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“We’ve been talking about penalties, and the head coach has done a real good job emphasizing them, more than he’s ever done,” linebackers coach Ken Norton Jr. said. “And we still are 31st in the league in penalties. If we want to win the close games, we have to play smart football and not just give the game away from dumb penalties.”
Many of those flags stalled Seattle’s momentum. Michael Robinson’s 15-yard facemask penalty wiped out a long run from Marshawn Lynch and eventually led to a Seattle punt. A holding call on Russell Okung in the first half erased another Lynch first down and led to another Seattle punt.
In a game so evenly played, the extra yards here or there helped shape the outcome.
“I’m probably most disappointed that there were a lot of critical penalties in this game,” coach Pete Carroll said.
The one complaint consistently levied against the Seahawks all year has been the penalty yards they’ve had. They have totaled 104 penalties for 966 yards — an average of eight flags and 74.3 yards per game. But Seattle kept winning and the issue never boiled above a simmer.
Those lessons tend to stick more after losses.
“You like to say that winning cures all, but at the same time, winning can cover up some things,” receiver Doug Baldwin said. “I don’t think we necessarily covered up anything, but we’ll definitely re-emphasize the importance of not having those penalties.”
Yet the reality of penalties in the NFL is not black and white. The three teams with the most penalties last year made the playoffs. The three least-penalized teams did not. The Seahawks have been good enough to mask most of their penalty problems, but in their two losses, they’ve had a combined 16 penalties for 170 yards.
“Before, we’d get some penalties but we were winning pretty easily so it wasn’t a huge ordeal,” tight end Luke Willson said. “But today, with those penalties, it’s a different deal for us.”