Extra Points: Officials may be story in Seattle again

By The Sports NetworkSept. 1, 2014 at 2:03 PM
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Baseball analysts often say a batted ball will find a poor fielder.

Over in the NFL, it seems controversy always seeks out the biggest stage.

The reigning Super Bowl champion Seattle Seahawks will kick off the 2014 season on Thursday when they host Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers, a rematch of the famed "Fail Mary" game of 2012 in which Seattle's Russell Wilson found ex-teammate Golden Tate for a 24-yard touchdown on the final play of the game to give the Seahawks a 14-12 win.

That was hardly the story, however, as the game proved to be the impetus for the NFL to make up with its full-time officials, who were locked out at the time due to a labor dispute.

Then-Packer M.D. Jennings and Tate both got their hands on the ball on the game-winning play in 2012 with the replacement zebras ruling simultaneous possession, therefore awarding the TD and the game to Seattle.

Prior to the catch, though, Tate clearly shoved a defender with both hands, which the NFL later acknowledged should have drawn an offensive pass interference penalty to negate the touchdown and result in a Packers victory.

The call or non-call in this case is widely considered to have been the tipping point which finally led to an agreement being reached between the league and its regular refs.

This time around, the "real officials" will certainly be on hand, but they will bring with them a directive to put an "enhanced emphasis" on certain penalties, including illegal contact and defensive holding.

Enter the current Seahawks, who are fresh off the franchise's first Super Bowl win, a 43-8 drubbing of Denver in Super Bowl XLVIII against a Broncos team which just happened to be the first NFL in history to score over 600 points in a season.

That meant little to Seattle's physical defense, which helped build a 22-0 halftime lead, and a humbling 36-0 advantage before finally allowing the Broncos' first score on the final play of the third quarter.

The Seahawks' stingy stop unit scored a safety on the first play from scrimmage -- the quickest score in Super Bowl history -- before tacking on an interception return for a score from linebacker Malcolm Smith, who also recovered a fumble and made nine tackles en route to being named Super Bowl MVP.

When the carnage was finally over, the high-powered Broncos were held to nearly 30 points below their scoring average and five-time NFL MVP Peyton Manning had thrown two picks.

Fast forward to the 2014 preseason and many believe that a league which believes offense fuels the popularity of its game reacted to Seattle's dominance by cracking down on certain penalties believed to be "under- officiated," including the aforementioned illegal contact and defensive holding calls.

The detractors claim the mandate was a direct response to the Seahawks' success last season, almost a warning to "The Legion of Boom," the ultra- physical defensive backfield which consistently beat up on opposing receivers en route to the Lombardi Trophy.

Despite being the most-penalized team in the league in 2013, the Seahawks reached the pinnacle by forcing officials to throw the flag in key moments, something head coach Pete Carroll correctly surmised most wouldn't be willing to do.

Penalties were up to a ludicrous degree at times during the exhibition season, however. It's something Carroll hopes won't be an issue on Thursday.

"I hope that the league office will be open to the conversation," the veteran coach said earlier this preseason. "It doesn't seem quite right. It seems like there are too many calls being made and too many incidental calls that seem to be affecting the game. So, we'll see -- It's obviously different. So, the question is: Is it better? I don't know."

For now, the league insists the renewed emphasis on these particular penalties will remain and continue throughout the regular season.

"We're not going to change how we're calling the games once the regular season starts," NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino told MMQB.com.

Blandino's belief, however, is that teams will adjust to the stricter rules and play accordingly, meaning the extra flags will disappear, a scenario the NFL has tried to sell from the beginning of this process.

"The way the game's being officiated now is the way it's going to be officiated when the season begins," Blandino said during the preseason. "We have to remain consistent. I knew we'd see a spike in calls when we put out these points of emphasis.

"But coaches adjust, and players adjust. They have to, and they know it. And we'll correct our officials when we feel they're being overzealous with certain calls."

Carroll's not about to conform, though, and the Seahawks' plan will remain the same as it was last year -- beat up the opposing receivers and force the referees to make a decision.

Perhaps no quarterback in the history of the game throws the back-shoulder fade better than Rodgers which will put the league's intent to pay closer attention to illegal contact and defensive holding -- as well as offensive pass interference for that matter -- under the microscope immediately.

Tune in Thursday to see if "Fail Mary" morphs into "Flag Football."


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