SAN FRANCISCO - Whether it's Vernon Davis and Darnell Dockett engaging in a war of tweets in the run-up to the game, or Arizona safety Adrian Wilson headhunting against Davis during the game, the 49ers-Cardinals matchup tends to get a little chippy.
In Sunday's 23-7 victory by the Niners, things went further than usual.
At about the 11:00 mark of the fourth quarter, as 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith was sacking Richard Bartel, safety Dashon Goldson and Cardinals wide receiver Early Doucet began trading punches. Replays showed Doucet instigating the fight by hitting Goldson from behind, but it was the defender who got caught throwing the last couple of blows.
Officials threw Goldson out of the game and penalized the 49ers 15 yards; the team now must wait to find out whether the NFL also hands down a suspension, which seems unlikely. Doucet was not flagged or punished.
The Cardinals drove to their only touchdown on that possession, and on the ensuing kickoff, Arizona's Michael Adams got hit with an unnecessary roughness penalty for shoving Ted Ginn out of bounds. It has emerged as a theme for the 49ers. The Buccaneers and Redskins, to cite two examples, also lost their cool in losses to these guys.
"Sometimes things escalate, especially when you're doing so well and you've found ways to get in the other team's head," 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. "We have to be smart about what's going on and know the scenarios."
Coach Jim Harbaugh said Goldson was remorseful after the game, and stressed that it isn't OK to retaliate for cheap shots. In typical Harbaugh fashion, he also suggested that tough boys will be tough boys.
"Maybe I'm seeing this through rose-colored glasses, but I thought our guys kept their composure," he said. "I didn't think that once the whistle stopped, that we were the ones that were shoving and getting the extra shove in. It comes to a point where you can't always concede the last shove."