To Score or Not to Score: A Look at Inconsistent NFL Commentary


Dec 9, 2012, Seattle, WA, USA; Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt, left, and Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll stand at midfield during pregame warmups at CenturyLink Field. Mandatory Credit: Joe Nicholson-USA TODAY Sports

After completely leveling two teams in consecutive weeks the Seattle Seahawks and their coach, Pete Carroll have been coming under fire for “running up the score.” Some of this criticism came on the same exact day that two other teams the Saints and Falcons won by an even larger margin in shutouts with completely different analysis provided. In the case of the Saints game, where they beat the Buccaneers 41-0, Brian Billick pontificated that the Saints were simply giving game experience to their younger players and developing them. In the Falcon’s 34-0 rout of the Giants it was observed that they were simply playing like a “Super Bowl team.” Meanwhile John Lynch was showing concern over Seattle running up the score on Buffalo.

There are a few aspects to this that need to be broken down. First, this was the second week in a row where Seattle had come out and destroyed their opponent. In Seattle’s 58-0 shutout of Arizona the week before, Tim Ryan couldn’t get over the fact that Seattle kept scoring. Never mind the fact that 14 of those points came from the defense and Seattle had pulled it’s starters with ten minutes to go in the third quarter. Seattle did attempt a long pass on a fourth down, but they were in a field situation where punting would have been ridiculous, a field goal had a high probability of success, and Seattle instead chose to have its backup quarterback make a long pass to a rookie backup receiver that was incomplete.

Against Buffalo, Seattle ran a fake punt that was successful and was called due to a preset play in a given situation. Pete Carroll subsequently apologized and said that he should have called the play off. I can see why people might be upset with that play call. As for running up the score however, Marshawn Lynch came out in the third quarter. Backup Robert Turbin was put in. Matt Flynn was inserted with about five minutes left to go in the game.

Neither Arizona nor Buffalos defense showed any capability of stopping Seattle no matter who was in the game. It creates awkward situations, but at some point the defense is required to make a stop and an offense taking a knee with a quarter to go seems even more humiliating.

There seem to be several factors should be discussed. What exactly did Seattle do uniquely that the Saints and Falcons did not that warranted a truckload of crap to be dumped on the Seahawks and more specifically Pete Carroll? What exactly constitutes “running up the score?” Is it the difference in points or the play calling? Is the standard evenly applied to all teams?

I’m not going to focus on the Seattle-Arizona game because there is nothing that Seattle could have done besides take a knee or punt on every play starting in the third quarter. The NFL probably would have found a way to fine the team and Arizona, rightly, would have been pissed.

In the Buffalo game, the only thing Seattle did that could be deemed unsportsmanlike would be running a fake punt. If this is what offends people, then Pete Carroll has apologized and owned the mistake. He might not feel as bad as you want him to but why should he honestly care about your dainty sensibilities? He’s done more than Bill Beilichick has ever done in regard to running up scores by even apologizing. If it wasn’t the play call that upset you then it could only have been the actual point difference.

The final score of Seattle and Buffalo was 50-17. That is a difference of 33 points. New Orleans beat Tampa Bay by 41 points and kept Drew Brees in until there was just over six minutes remaining in the game. Pete Carroll pulled Russell Wilson much earlier the week before against Arizona.

In the Giants-Falcons game, Matt Ryan didn’t come out until there were four minutes remaining in the game. This was mostly a token maneuver as Atlanta proceeded to run Jason Snelling five times and then have Luke McCown take a knee twice. Atlanta beat New York by 34.

Maybe all three teams ran up the score, played like Super Bowl teams, and were trying to develop young players at the same time and Seattle just had the bad luck of getting the ass-hat Tim Ryan in week 14 and a very sensitive John Lynch in week 15 while New Orleans was being observed by Brian Billick and the Falcons by the Kenny, Moose and Goose show (my favorite announcing crew). If the score is your problem than I’d like to see the Saints and Falcons included on any list you put the Seahawks on. Feel free to throw the Belichick led Patriots from 2007 on the list as well. They ran the score up on their opponents for an entire season. Never once did Brady come out of the game.

Some other notable score differentials:

  • 2009: New England 59, Tennessee 0
  • 2011: New Orleans 62, Indinapolis 7
    • Drew Brees stayed in the game and ran up the score because he was attempting to catch up t0 Brady in breaking the single season passing record. Are records legitimate reasons to be “unsportsmanlike?”

Ken Whisenhunt of the Arizona Cardinals also kept passing after the game was in hand against the Seahawks in Mike Holmgren’s final season as coach in a successful effort to have three receivers over 1,000 yards for the season. Records seem like a dubious reason since they are completely selfish in nature and if sportsmanship is the name of the game, it seems like that would trump individual achievements.

I’m not exactly sure where the line in points is to be considered as “running up the score” so I can’t really create one. For most people I imagine it can be best described by using Justice Potter Stewart’s words in the 1964 Supreme Court case Jacobellis v. Ohio regarding hard-core pornography: you “know it when [you] see it.” That is a perfectly fine rationale, however to be used, one must acknowledge the inherent subjectivity of it and therefore it’s overall shortcoming in meaning anything. But when did subjectivity and meaning ever stop sports or political pundits from saying anything?

The final thing could just be people’s general disdain for Pete Carroll that is carried over from his successful career as a college coach. I’ve seen the terms “douche” and “idiot” thrown around in describing Pete Carroll. College football is an entirely different subject and huge score differentials are much more common so I can only assume people are offering their opinions on the character of Pete Carroll over the Reggie Bush incident. I have my opinions on what happened at USC (and had them before Seattle hired Pete Carroll) but I’m not going to hash that out here. The fact is there are many coaches in college that run scores up. In fact Jim Harbaugh did it to Pete Carroll and even went for a two-point conversion after already being up. Les Miles, Mac Brown, Nick Saban, the list could go on. These are opinions that can’t be changed and aren’t worth acknowledging after this sentence.

Seattle gets a lot of disrespect. Much more than teams from larger markets (Giants, Patriots, Cowboys, etc.) or with more renowned histories (Green Bay). This makes it hard for Seattle fans to not instinctively become defensive and circle the wagons every time some dip$h!t from ESPN decides to advocate for breaking Russell Wilson’s legs as retribution to Pete Carroll. Toni Kornheiser wouldn’t dream of saying that about Robert Griffin or Andrew Luck. If he did ESPN would come down on him like a ton of bricks because Griffin and Luck are the players and stories that the network has been pimping all year. He said it about Russell Wilson though, and that’s okay. Never mind the fact that the moment to advocate for unnecessary violence might not be this current one.

I vigorously try to resist the urge to go into an “us-versus-them” mindset. Seattle often doesn’t get a fair shake in the overall scheme of NFL commentary. We put up with being labeled as “South Alaska” on national television by an idiot that shills for boner pills in his free time. Seattleites are used to that. It is different when people try to comment on the character and integrity of a team they normally don’t think twice about. I’m proud that my football team is full of players that generally avoid trouble, don’t beat women, abuse drugs, and/or shoot people. (Leroy Hill is really the only exception I can think of.)

You don’t have to like Pete Carroll but I wouldn’t call him unsportsmanlike or a douche. By extension, you’d be calling the players that love playing for him the same thing and then the fans that support those players the same. That is what I resent. I’m okay if opinions are consistently applied no matter who might fall victim to them, but I am sick of the Seahawks being singled out as some illegitimate exception that doesn’t belong. There are people that are more defensive than me, but I don’t want to turn into that kind of fan. I’m willing to listen to any argument but be willing to include everyone else that falls under whatever category you establish and include them when you talk about the subject. Don’t just refer to Seattle as the paragon of all that is wrong in the NFL. I can think of several teams that have bigger issues both on and off the field.

*I just want to add that I really like and respect both Ken Whisenhunt and Chan Gailey as coaches and men. I have a soft spot for Buffalo as another small-market team that gets limited respect. I respect Whisenhunt as a coach and competitor and would be disappointed to see him out of the NFC West. I also realize and acknowledge there are probably other small market teams that feel similarly to Seattle’s fan base in certain areas discussed above.