He struck a much different tone Wednesday.
A defiant and defensive Metcalf challenged the scrutiny he has received in the wake of his latest 15-yard infraction, including some that came from his own head coach, Pete Carroll.
“I’m not going to change the way I play,” Metcalf said.
The subject was raised anew after Metcalf was flagged for unnecessary roughness in the Seahawks’ 17-13 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday. It was his fifth penalty of the season (including one offsetting), which is tied with Seahawks guard Phil Haynes for 15th most among all players and tops among receivers.
A few minutes earlier, when asked about Metcalf’s penalties, Carroll told reporters that he brought up the issue in a team meeting on Monday to underscore the importance of fixing it.
“We put all the penalties on the board in Monday’s meetings and the guys who had the most were on the top, and he was up there with another guy,” Carroll said. “We all have to acknowledge it and recognize what our issues are, whatever they are. It happens to be in this case he’s getting called.
“He knows. He’s got to clean it up. We have to make sure we’re aware of how they’re calling stuff. He’s a very aggressive player, very physical and it stands out and he draws attention because of that. So we’ve got to be cleaner. He knows it and he’s got to get it done.”
Asked about Carroll’s message in the team meeting, Metcalf downplayed the issue, saying, “It was just a board to me.”
“If you look at the penalties, it was a taunting, unnecessary roughness, face mask, holding and I think it was one more in there,” he said, referring to an illegal blindside block. “So I’m doing pretty good if I look at it and judge myself, how I play. I just try to be consistent and have clean hands or whatever the case may be, but I’m not going to change who I am as a player or a person.”
With at least 900 yards in each of his first four NFL seasons and a team-high 337 through five games this year, Metcalf, who has been playing through a rib injury since Week 2, is off to one of the most prolific starts of any receiver in franchise history. But penalties have dogged him. He has been flagged 10 times for either taunting, unsportsmanlike conduct, unnecessary roughness or disqualification, the most in the NFL since he made his debut in 2019. His 28 total penalties in that span are five more than any other receiver.
Asked whether some of those penalties have been a case of letting his emotions get the better of him, Metcalf asked the media member who posed the question whether he has ever had a bad day at work.
“All right, so that’s all I’ll nail it down to,” he said. “Nobody’s perfect. I’m my own person, like I just said. I’m a competitive person, so I’m not going to shy away because he put a penalty board on the screen. I’m just going to continue to be me.”
Carroll drew a distinction between Metcalf’s penalty against the Bengals and others he has committed when losing his cool in the heat of the moment, saying this one was partly the result of the receiver not knowing the play was over.
In the second quarter, Metcalf was blocking more than 30 yards downfield after Geno Smith dumped off to running back Zach Charbonnet for a 4-yard gain. The flag came when Metcalf shoved cornerback Cam Taylor-Britt to the ground after the play had been whistled dead.
Metcalf told Carroll he couldn’t hear the official’s whistle because he was so far away. Carroll bought the explanation and said Metcalf’s aggressiveness is part of what makes him a successful receiver, but he put the onus on Metcalf to tone it down in situations where it could hurt the team.
“It’s a competitiveness that’s special in guys, but you have to channel it properly and that comes with experience, and sometimes it comes with the pain of it,” Carroll said of Metcalf. “So the main thing is that we’re addressing it and we’re on it and he knows it and he wants to get it right. He doesn’t want to hurt our team by making penalties, but he’s not the only one. We’ve got to do way better in the penalty department.”
The Seahawks have committed 49 total penalties this season, which is tied for sixth most even though they’ve played only five games. Their 39 accepted penalties are tied for 10th most.
Regarding his penalty problem, Metcalf said in 2021 that he needed to do a better job of not letting defenders get under his skin. Later that season, after he was ejected for a scuffle late in a loss to the Green Bay Packers, he acknowledged he needed to “grow up,” given his rising profile as a team leader.
In the season opener, Metcalf was flagged for taunting as he exchanged words with the Los Angeles Rams’ bench, which was upset at how he shoved cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon to the ground at the end of the previous play. The hit and the penalty led to a pair of fines from the league office as well as another sit-down with Carroll. Metcalf again acknowledged afterward that he’s “got to be better.”
His comments on Wednesday lacked any of those past sentiments.
“I’m just going to leave that up to everybody else,” Metcalf said when asked if he feels like he has made progress in the penalty department. “I don’t feel like I was a problem or I needed to make progress in a certain area. Football is a violent sport, and it’s my one opportunity to be violent, on game day. So I’m just going to continue to do that.”
Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner, a longtime team captain and a mentor to Metcalf early in his career, said the receiver needs to remember that officials are keeping an extra close eye on him.
“I’m pretty sure the teams that are playing him are pointing that out pregame — ‘Hey, watch 14, watch 14,’” Wagner said. “Sometimes you’ve got to remind him that when you set that type of precedent, it takes a while for that to go away. So that’s the biggest thing is just understanding that they’re watching him, they aren’t going to let him get away with stuff that maybe other guys get away with, and be mindful of it.”
Metcalf was asked how much his reputation precedes him with officials.
“Every time before a game, it’s always, ‘Hey, let’s try to play a clean game today,’” he said. “I’m like, ‘Yes, sir. Good luck doing that. Let’s try to make all the right calls as well.’ Nobody’s perfect. So just continue to put it behind me and continue to play football.”