Inside Slant: A whistle from the stands

From an Inside Slant perspective, one play stood out to me during the chaotic first quarter Sunday night at CenturyLink Field.

Stopped on their opening possession, the Seattle Seahawks lined up to punt at the San Francisco 49ers' 49-yard line. As they got set, the screech of a whistle -- a noise, not this -- could be heard over the NBC broadcast. Multiple Seahawks players seemed to hear it as well, because six of them stood up or otherwise indicated they thought referee John Parry's crew had blown the play dead.

Long snapper Clint Gresham either didn't hear it or he realized the sound had not come from an official. Gresham snapped the ball with half of his teammates out of position, and multiple 49ers steamrolled by to block Jon Ryan's punt.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll was livid on the sideline. What was he upset at? Did he think the whistle came from an official? What did he want Parry to do? What, if anything, does the NFL rule book have to say about such instances?

The truth appears simple. While the rule book stipulates how to handle an inadvertent whistle from an official -- the play is ruled dead -- there is nothing that applies to the reaction of players to noise from the stands. The closest thing is Rule 13, Article 7, which speaks to a "palpably unfair act by a non-player." (The common dictionary defines "palpably" as "easily perceived or obvious.") In such cases, the referee is to consult with the crew and "make such ruling as he considers equitable."

Parry didn't think that a fan using a noisemaker qualified as an obviously unfair act, and I don't think any of us would, either. A better example might be a fan running onto the field and disrupting a live play.

Once Parry confirmed that no one from his crew had blown a whistle, the play correctly stood as a blocked punt. The Seahawks were fortunate that the 49ers did not score on the play or the ensuing possession.

The folks at Zebras.com have an in-detail look at the rules that could conceivably apply here and explains why they ultimately don't. The play got Carroll fired up, and he was still talking about it in his postgame news conference, but Parry's crew appeared to do everything right. It was just a mistake by more than half the players on the Seahawks punt team.