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Swerving Points, Week 3: Not all flags are created equal

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NFL: Dallas Cowboys at Seattle Seahawks
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Troy Wayrynen-USA TODAY Sports

As always, Swerving Points is not about the game’s biggest plays, which would be turning points. We know what those were in Sunday’s win, on defense at least.

Interception 1: Just the right ankle

McForced McFumble

Interception 2: Earlectic Bugaloo

Take a bow? Take a bow. Why the hell not?

Chris Carson even unlocked the RB TD vault. May much unclaimed loot spill out of there onto the Seattle Seahawks’ 2018 season. Jaron Brown caught his first score as a Seahawk, and Tyler “Guess That Extension Wasn’t Such A Bad Idea” Lockett hauled in his third TD in as many games.

Fine, you can have Steve Raible calling the Lockett TD. But only because you’ve all been very good boys and girls all week.

Highlights galore. You’re welcome. Now there are four penalties I’d like to talk about, four flags that shaped the game on the contours, if not the core.

Roughing the passer on Tyrone Crawford (DAL), first quarter, 11:17.

Result of the play: First down SEA

Of all the big penalties in the game, this one probably had the lowest impact on the final result. The EPA (expected points added) was 1.58, a significant amount for a single play on one’s own side of the field, but Seattle still had to punt at drive’s end. Because they simply don’t score opening-possession touchdowns. That wouldn’t be very sporting.

Anyway, what made me want to cite this event is that it overruled a third-down incompletion and led to a 12-play drive by the Seahawks. Field flipped, first downs gained, intelligence gathered, a semblance of rhythm attained: though you’d always like to score points, at least you achieved something with the football in your hands. For a change, the possession wasn’t a complete waste.

Also: there is a ton of research on how referees favor home teams. Two of my favorite hits lie below.

In the NBA (includes great custom chart)

In the NFL (a lot to process here)

It was awfully nice to see Seattle benefit from what might have been a hometown call. Things are tougher on the road, and you don’t always get all the breaks you’d like (see: Week 1 in Denver with the non-fumble and the maybe-touchdown fiasco). Being at home matters in more ways than one.

On to the more swervy flags.

Illegal touch on Ezekiel Elliott (DAL), second quarter, 5:39.

Result of the play: Cowboys settle for a field goal

Elliott’s footwork was just sloppy enough that he stepped out of bounds before making a reception near the south end zone and racing down the far sideline for a sure score. On a 3rd and 2 from the SEA 31. Four points come off the board for Dallas, with seven turning into three.

Up until this point, the Seahawks have also earned some penalties, as is their habit. 12 men on the field (VERY ON BRAND) during the Cowboys’ first possession, the weekly holding on J.R. Sweezy, and especially running into the kicker to prolong a Dallas drive. But each was followed shortly by a positive play that mitigated the error, or eliminated its bad effects altogether.

By game’s end, Seattle would be called 10 penalties to the Cowboys’ 7, costing the hosts 67 yards to the visitors’ 55. As halftime approached, the Seahawks were already losing the penalty battle, but winning the war, and the biggest call of all was yet to come.

Personal foul, unnecessary roughness on Randy Gregory DAL, second quarter, 0:07.

Result of the play: first down SEA in field-goal territory

Gregory, who may or may not have been baited by Joey “Breno” Hunt, gifts Seattle 15 yards of field position to transform a potential 62-yard FG into a quite different 47-yard attempt. Sebastian Janikowski remembers how to make the mid-range ones and delivers three points as the half ends. This game feels awfully different in the fourth quarter without that kick as extra cushion.

We would be remiss to tell the story of this costly (to Dallas!) penalty without mentioning that Pete Carroll was aggressive on defense with the timeouts. He called two on the Cowboys’ previous possession and gave his offense 49 seconds to get into field-goal range one last time before half.

Somehow, Carroll had managed to preserve all three timeouts for the first 28 minutes — while Jason Garrett had spent all of his minutes ago, two on defense and another for play clock reasons. Pays off sometimes to be the team that isn’t wasteful.

Personal foul, taunting on Earl Thomas, SEA, fourth quarter, 3:17

Result of the play: another unforgettable Earl Thomas moment

There is very little more to say than the unsaid words behind Earl’s bow. Yes, he just vaporized Dallas’ last best chance of the game with a red zone pick. Yes, it’s his second.

Yes, there have been a shit-ton of rumors. Endless billows of smoke circle around Thomas, even today, but as of yet no fire is spotted. Well. Not since Earl set the sideline ablaze with the play of the game, then the statement of the game.

So he takes a bow. Maybe to drive the point home about how much better off they’d have been with him wearing a star on his helmet instead of a bird. And he earns a personal foul. This moment’s a swerving point that could very easily become a turning point for his career. Maybe the quality and ferocity of his play on Sunday leads to an extension here; maybe he sits out more practices; maybe he delivers the best season of his life and walks away in free agency to earn the financial security he craves.

Meanwhile, the Legend of Earl Thomas grows.

(Extend him.)