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Seahawks' brash brand of football comes with risks

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If it weren't clear before this season or even the last two weeks, it should be now: Pete Carroll's Seahawks are a brash, impertinent bunch who straddle the line of propriety on and off the field.

And Carroll doesn't generally seem to care until it costs his team. That arrogance might be the only flaw this club has -- and perhaps the final hurdle to winning the Super Bowl.

Carroll has a deep team that can withstand suspensions to players who have crossed the line off the field, and he has put together such a talented team that it can overcome penalties on the field.

The Hawks had done that in all but one game this season -- until Sunday, when their propensity for playing flag football contributed to another close loss in San Francisco as they were penalized nine times for 85 yards.

It's not like the Hawks had any more penalties than usual -- they have had nine or 10 fouls in seven games this season and rank No. 2 in the league in penalties.

The Hawks live on the edge, playing a physical style of football and risking the penalties that come with that. They have amassed more fouls than their opponents in all but two games.

Carroll said it himself on 710 ESPN: "We have a big reputation and have to play over and above that ... and overcome those (penalties)."

But on the road against a good team in a closely matched contest, mistakes are magnified, and some of those nine penalties really burned the Hawks in the 19-17 loss to the 49ers.

"I’m probably most disappointed that there (were) a lot of critical penalties in this game," Carroll told reporters. "It felt like it kind of dictated the flow of it, but that is the way it goes sometimes. They call them on us; they call them on them as well. I’m not complaining about that. I just wish it wasn’t a part of this game because it could have made a difference."

The ones that might have made a difference were (1) the first-quarter pass interference call on Golden Tate that negated his third-down catch to midfield, (2) the second-quarter holding call on Richard Sherman on third-and-11 that extended a 49ers drive that ended in a field goal, (3) the second-quarter holding call on Byron Maxwell that turned a third-and-8 into a first down and (4) a third-quarter facemask on Michael Robinson that negated a 20-yard run by Marshawn Lynch.

Sherman told reporters: "They got the benefit of a few calls tonight throughout the game, and that helps you, especially on third down."

While the Tate and Robinson fouls were questionable (i.e., they would be called just half the time), the Hawks also could have been nailed for a couple more big fouls -- the refs missed a pass interference and a late hit.

And, as Carroll said, the refs called it both ways. The 49ers had seven penalties for 70 yards as the teams combined for 16 flags, giving them 38 combined penalties in two games this season. That's what happens when physical division rivals clash.

To blame this game on the refs would be completely irresponsible. And to hope the Hawks will fix their penalty penchant after a season in which they have averaged eight flags for 74 yards per game would be totally unrealistic.

This game was decided by one big run: Frank Gore's 51-yarder that set up the winning field goal. But the penalties prevented the Seahawks from finding their footing and going on any run of their own.

"I really think that it is marred by the penalty thing," Carroll said. "It changed the game for us. We needed to get out of it one way or another and we couldn’t do it. Both sides of the ball. It was a factor in drives."

Carroll tends to focus on issues when they cost the Hawks, so penalties surely will be a focal point this week as the Hawks prepare for what they hope is their first of two trips to New York this season.

But as long as the Hawks play Carroll's brash brand of football, they will always run the risk of beating themselves -- especially against good teams on the road.

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