SANTA CLARA, Calif. - There hasn't been much this season about the way the Seattle Seahawks play football that could be described as easy on the eyes. This is a team built to win ugly. Pound the ball and play physical defense. Unfortunately, that style can lead to losing ugly, as well.
Case in point: Sunday's 26-23 overtime loss at San Francisco.
The Seahawks (8-6) could have clinched a playoff berth with a victory and for the most part played like a team on a mission, repeatedly making plays worthy of an eventual victor. However, all too often - 14 times to be exact - officials reached for a yellow flag and tossed it onto the turf that progressively grew soggier thanks to the intermittent rain showers that coated Levi's Stadium.
By the end of the game, Seattle had committed a franchise record 148 yards in penalties. The team's 14 penalties - 10 in the second half - were three off the team record of 17 set back in 1984.
"It's interesting how these games take a turn sometimes and you've got to look at the numbers and see what happened in the game," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "This was really a clear game where we just hurt ourselves so much with this penalty thing that took our chances away."
Seattle needed to dig deep within all of its reserves on offense and defense to find enough resiliency and toughness to pull out a win against a young, struggling but hungry San Francisco (4-10) team that hasn't quit and now has defeated two playoff hopeful teams in three weeks after knocking off Denver (6-8) last week and now Seattle.
The Seahawks got a tough 119 yards on the ground from running back Chris Carson and quarterback Russell Wilson made enough plays to put up 237 yards and two touchdown passes, both to wide receiver Doug Baldwin, who missed last week's win over Minnesota. Even the defense, which did allow rookie quarterback Nick Mullens to have success as he did during Seattle's 43-16 win over this very same team two weeks ago at CenturyLink Field, found its pass rush late to get some sacks that thwarted the 49ers chances to steal a win in regulation.
In overtime, Wilson threw a 32-yard pass to running back J.D. McKissic to the San Francisco 48 but the play got called back because of another holding penalty on Pocic. Seattle ended up punting and San Francisco made the Seahawks pay by driving into field goal range thanks in large part to a pass interference penalty on cornerback Shaquill Griffin that gave the 49ers the ball at the Seattle 41.
A few plays later, kicker Robbie Gould ended the game with a 36-yard field goal. Griffin bristled at the interference call and how differently this game went compared to Seattle's win over these same 49ers two weeks ago.
"I think it looked different because of the refs," Griffin said. "That's just the honest answer. I feel like we haven't had this many flags called against us since I've been here. It sucks that it happened. But I can't blame it on them. We can't put ourselves in that position. That's completely on us."
That penalty - unfair or not - was Seattle's 10th after halftime.
"Which is just crazy," Carroll said. "I don't know how that could happened."
"There was just too much to overcome," Carroll said.
This loss muddies things for Seattle just a bit. The Seahawks, which had won four straight games entering Sunday, now needs a little help in order to be able to clinch a playoff berth with a win next week at home over Kansas City. That's because the Chiefs are an AFC team and the loss to San Francisco, an NFC team, created some bad NFL tie-breaker situations, especially with Washington (7-7), coming off a win over the Jacksonville Jaguars. However, if Seattle wins next week, it would take an awful lot for Seattle to not make the playoffs. A win the following week over Arizona (3-11) would actually be more valuable than defeating Kansas City to finish 9-7. Winning both, of course, would lock up a berth for Seattle.
"Obviously a really important championship opportunity for us and it's a huge lesson for our team," Carroll said.
Wilson said it's a lesson that will prove beneficial in the near future because as bad as this loss looks on paper, in the end it might not mean very much in terms of playoff seeding or reaching the playoffs.
"It's a moment," Wilson said. "How do you use it is going to be the key. I think that for us, before today, there were three games left and where we want to go didn't stop today. It wasn't going to stop next week. Hopefully it won't stop the last week."