The howling about the officiating will last well past Halloween. Maybe until the next one, in fact.
Especially when it’s Richard Sherman howling the loudest.
“We played within the rules and we got called. They played not within the rules and they didn’t get called,” the three-time All-Pro cornerback said of referee Ed Houchuli’s crew Sunday after the Seahawks’ 25-20 loss to the New Orleans Saints.
“What they have one penalty in the game? (Actually two, to Seattle’s 11). Some people would say that’s skewed.
“It looked pretty obvious the way the game was officiated. I don’t think they weren’t trying to hide. Some of the calls — or lack thereof — was pretty egregious. … Even when we are at home we rarely get calls. But at least they don’t tear us apart (as they did on Sunday).”
All right then.
The Seahawks (4-2-1) have a far more pressing issue conspiring against them. It endangers their postseason hopes far more than the referees, especially with games against Buffalo, at New England and versus Philadelphia coming up.
Despite maintaining a lead atop the NFC West because second-place Arizona (3-4-1) lost Sunday (30-20 at Carolina), the Seahawks’ offense is undermining their tremendous, top-ranked defense.
Coach Pete Carroll walked off the field shaking his head. He wasn’t the only Seahawk whose noggin was swiveling.
“It was a very difficult day for us,” Carroll said. “We made it hard on ourselves.”
The Seahawks have one offensive touchdown in their past nine quarters. That includes four periods against the league’s worst scoring defense Sunday.
Seattle’s defense was on the field for 21 of the game’s first 29 minutes. This despite building half of Seattle’s 14-3 lead when Earl Thomas returned a fumble — that brilliant-again Cliff Avril forced in the first quarter — for a touchdown.
With 1 minute left in the first half, the defense had played 67 of the Seahawks’ previous 104 minutes of game time back to the start of the previous weekend’s 6-6 overtime tie at Arizona.
The offense, which for years punished teams with a relentless running game, rushed for three yards in the half. THREE.
These weren’t the Monsters of the Midway they were facing, either. More like the Battered of the Bayou.
The Saints were allowing 32.5 points per game, but Seattle’s offense produced 13 points against them. New Orleans was 23rd in the NFL against the run. Seattle finished with 74 yards on 17 carries among its 54 plays.
Christine Michael ran five times for 31 of his 40 yards to begin the second half, leading a crisp drive to a field goal and a 17-13 lead. But Michael carried it twice for 6 yards the rest of the game.
Carroll and play caller Darrell Bevell keep saying “we need to call more runs.” But Seattle has run the ball 19 and 17 times in the past two games. That’s the fewest rushes over a two-game stretch since Oct. 23-30, 2011.
After those losses at Cleveland (6-3) and to Cincinnati (34-12) five years ago, Carroll and line coach Tom Cable committed more to running the ball. And Marshawn Lynch eventually became the cornerstone to consecutive Super Bowl appearances.
Lynch is retired. His heir, Thomas Rawls, is healing a cracked fibula and out until at least Nov. 13 at New England. Michael has shown wear in his near-solo role rushing. So Seattle on Sunday tried rookie running back C.J. Prosise extensively for the first time.
Prosise’s four carries for 23 yards counts as extensive in this offense right now.
The Seahawks’ offense was again going nowhere behind a new left tackle who was a college basketball player and whose previous football start was in a Pee Wee league. That was George Fant.
It took a pass by Wilson to mothballed, two-reconstructive-knee-surgeries Paul Richardson, then a double pass from undrafted rookie wide receiver Tanner McEvoy to get the Seahawks moving. The former quarterback at Wisconsin fired a cross-field strike to Prosise to set up the offense’s lone TD. Michael’s 2-yard run made it 14-3.
“We know we have to be able to run the football,” Carroll said. “We have to get out of our own way so we can have more of a rhythm in the first half.”
Leave it to wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who came within a tackle of winning the game on a catch-and-run for 27 yards over the middle to the Saints 18 with 25 seconds left, to understand that the officiating isn’t Seattle’s biggest problem.
“Penalties play a factor, but I don’t think they play THAT big of a factor,” Baldwin said. “The 49ers lead the league in fewest penalties and penalty yards (and are 1-6). So …
“Check out how we start series. Are we ever more than 10 yards, first, second and third and more than 10. How many times are we in that situation? Yeah, those might be penalties. But the penalties aren’t what are hurting us. It’s what happens before that.”
Yes, the problem remains the acts that lead to the big penalties on early downs, mostly by offensive linemen. Those keep altering any plan to run the ball.
Such as Fant blocking from behind into the ankles of a defender in the first quarter. That ruined a second-and-9. There aren’t many good running plays for second-and-24. Guard Mark Glowinski’s false start on first-and-10 made it first-and-15. Wilson threw his interception on the next play. That set up the Saints’ first touchdown.
A block in the back by center Justin Britt in the third quarter with Seattle leading 17-16. That turned what would have been a second-and-2 into first-and-12. The Seahawks punted.
Michael inexplicably flinched out of his tailback stance on second-and-goal at the 5 in the fourth quarter. The false start moved the Seahawks back to the 10. Seattle settled for Stephen Hauschka’s 22-yard field goal for a 22-20 deficit instead of a touchdown and the lead with 6 minutes left.
Yet Wilson, as he has for most of his first five seasons, led a remarkable late rally. Wilson was 22 for 34 passing for 253 yards, no touchdowns and the one interception — his second pick in 215 throws this season. .
But with no timeouts and 1:50 left, down 25-20, Wilson’s three completions — two to Baldwin, for 31 yards — moved Seattle from its 32 to the Saints 18. After a spike to stop the clock with 16 seconds left, Wilson threw to Prosise for 8. Another rushed spike stopped the clock at 2 seconds, time for the final play.
With the Superdome as bonkers as New Year’s Eve on neighboring Bourbon Street, Wilson threw way high and deep right for Jermaine Kearse. The ball took Kearse into the backline boundary of the end zone. He still made a crazy, leaping snare, but could not get both feet down inbounds.
Thus, Seattle didn’t save itself on this Sunday.
“We were close…we had a chance at the end,” Wilson said. “That’s all you can ask.”
Actually, the Seahawks can ask for more — from the offense.
Much more consistency. And simply cleaner play.
Gregg Bell: @gbellseattle