SANTA CLARA — Depending on who is offering the opinion, the 49ers this Sunday will be going up against either a collection of stellar athletes and lovable underdogs, or a devious group that bends the NFL rules to gain an unfair advantage.
Plenty of people think the Seattle defensive backs are both, especially after the Seahawks' victory over New Orleans in the second round of the NFC playoffs.
“If you looked at the Saints last week, sometimes it looked like they were playing in quicksand,” said Rich Gannon, an analyst for NFL Network and SiriusXM NFL Radio. “Seattle had guys driving on throws, beating receivers to the ball. They were playing at a different speed and tempo.”
But were they playing with the same rulebook?
As the Seahawks bulldozed their way to a 13-3 record and the No. 1 seed in the NFC this year, the whispers became screams. Sure, these guys are talented. But the real reason for their success, some insisted, is their willingness to bump and shove and grab and interfere with receivers on a regular basis, fouling blatantly because they know NFL officials won't slow the game by throwing 20 penalty flags in the secondary.
As Fox analyst Mike Pereira, the former NFL vice president of officiating, put it to the Wall Street Journal: “They look at it and say, 'We may get called for one, but not 10.'”
Jim Harbaugh was onto it more than a year ago. After his team's 13-6 win at Candlestick Park in October 2012, the 49ers head coach was asked about his receivers being locked up by cornerbacks Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner.
“I wouldn't use the words 'locked up,'” Harbaugh said. “There's another word I would use. But we'll take that up with the officials in New York.”