Halfway through Seahawks season, has Pete Carroll learned NFL’s PI challenge rule?

It took half the season, a lot of bravado—and a few wasted time outs—but Pete Carroll thinks he’s got this pass-interference-challenge thing figured out.

Or does he?

Sunday in his team’s 30-16 loss to Baltimore, the Seahawks’ coach challenged a no-call on the field of pass interference near the goal line late in the second quarter. Rookie wide receiver DK Metcalf ran a sideline go route at Ravens cornerback Brandon Carr on third down. Metcalf initiated contact with a stiff arm into Carr’s shoulder. Carr retaliated with his hands into Metcalf. The two continued hand fighting down the sideline as Russell Wilson’s pass went beyond both of them incomplete. Officials on the field saw all the contact as a wash, inconsequential to the result of the play with no clear advantage gained by either player and kept their flags in their pockets.

After a pause and consultation with his conflicted assistants upstairs in the press box, Carroll threw the red challenge flag from the sideline. He javelin-tossed it, really, impressively launching it toward the middle of the field.

But his hopes of winning the challenge seemed to be zero before that flag hit the wet turf.

What followed had to be one of the quickest replay reviews in the NFL in years. The league’s officiating supervisors in New York spent as much time as it would take you to stand up off your couch during that TV break at home to rule no pass interference. In doing so, the league sent a clear notice the play did not come close to meeting the “clear and obvious” error standard the NFL is going by in this first season with a challenge system for pass interference.

It didn’t help the Seahawks that Metcalf is a hulking 6 feet 4, 230 pounds, and that he was contacting the cornerback as much as Carr was contacting him on the play.

Seattle lost its final time out of the first half. With 6 seconds left in it, Carroll had Jason Myers kick a 31-yard field goal to tie the game at 13 rather than take one more shot at a touchdown, which he may have done with a timeout.

“We were mixed on going for that. I mean, the guy has his hands all over us.,” Carroll said. “But I’m learning. I’m learning. This is a new time.”

Carroll admitted he was taking a flier with that challenge flag. He saw the risk of losing a time out in the first half far worth the potential reward of a first down near the goal line had the NFL somehow said, yeah, Metcalf did get hit and it prevented him from catching that pass.

The thing is, the league has changed its standard for these new reviews since week three. Before that, in week two, Carroll took advantage of the NFL still being in the first weeks of using replay to examine each aspect of a challenged-PI play. The league was, in a few cases, ruling any contact may be worthy of a call, or an overturned no call.

That’s how Carroll won his challenge on a key play late in Seattle’s win at Pittsburgh last month. On that play, Tyler Lockett may or may not have been affected from catching a deep pass from Wilson by getting turned by a Steeler as the ball arrived. There was contact, but it’s debatable whether no flag was a “clear and obvious” officiating error there.

“Yeah, it was a little bit desperation,” Carroll said of his challenge Sunday against Baltimore. “I thought it was a big enough situation to try for it, because we were going to have to give up points otherwise (settling for a field goal instead of a prime chance at a touchdown), and it was a chance.

“So, we took a shot at it.”

According to Newsday, entering Sunday there had been 44 stoppages for reviews related to pass interference this season, but only seven had been reversed. Coaches had been successful on just four of 37 challenges, including Carroll’s win at Pittsburgh, and on only one of the last 25 challenges for PI entering Sunday.

Most people though Giants (and former Seahawks) wide receiver Golden Tate got basically mugged by a Patriots defender before a pass arrived in this past week’s Thursday night game, but there was no PI call. Giants coach Pat Schurmur challenged that no call—and lost.

So, Carroll was asked following Sunday’s game, does he think the NFL will ever overturn a pass-interference call or no call the rest of this season?

“Yeah, they will. They will when it’s really, like they say, totally miss it.

“They’re not there to police pass interference, really. We kind of had that thought for a while, that they were going to police it, and they were going to clean things up and all that. They’re not doing that. They’re waiting for the play that’s an obvious miss.”

After all, that is how the new replay-challenge rule for PI is written, and is what the owners voted for this past spring. The new rule is in place to avoid the debacle of the no call for PI in the Rams’ win over the Saints in last season’s NFC championship game, when a Los Angeles defender trucked a New Orleans receiver before the ball arrived but there was no call.

And Carroll says he’s cool with that.

“That’s OK. That’s the way the rules are. That’s the way they’ve been saying it, so they’re doing what they’re saying.

“We just have to adapt to it. I’ve been pretty aggressive about trying. I think we’re at the halfway point of the season after this week coming up, and I think I have it pretty well figured out.

“I will tell you the next time that I screw one up, that I don’t,” he joked, with a small grin. “So, we’ll see what happens.”

Gregg Bell is the Seahawks and NFL writer for The News Tribune. In January 2019 he was named the Washington state sportswriter of the year by the National Sports Media Association. He started covering the NFL in 2002 as the Oakland Raiders beat writer for The Sacramento Bee. The Ohio native began covering the Seahawks in their first Super Bowl season of 2005. In a prior life he graduated from West Point and served as a tactical intelligence officer in the U.S. Army, so he may ask you to drop and give him 10.
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