Big, bad football players don’t get intimidated. Not by noise, weather, statistics or hard hits.
Tell that to the two defenses about to attempt to dominate the NFC championship game Sunday.
Or to the offenses, for that matter.
Seattle and San Francisco ranked first and third in points allowed this season. The Seahawks (14-3) won the NFC West with the stingiest defense in yardage yielded, and the 49ers (14-4) were fifth in that category.
The Seahawks led the league in takeaways (39), interceptions (28) and turnover margin (plus-20), while the Niners had a plus-12.
They did it with units that don’t back down — ever. Physical, aggressive, relentless. Choose your favorite term.
“I think DBs playing physical is the way football should be,” Seahawks All-Pro cornerback Richard Sherman said. “A lot of people want to see great offense. You see great offense all the time, people running through zones and guys not being able to cover them.
“We stand up there and have a dog fight every play. You know, there are going to be some pushing-offs and grabbing here and there, and that is the game of football. That’s how it is. That’s how it’s always been.”
Pointing to the Seattle secondary for instilling trepidation in opponents is a natural place to start. They specialize in tight coverage and rugged tackling. They don’t back down.
“Our aggression, our intensity is the same as it’s been,” Sherman said as he looked ahead to a third meeting with their division counterpart in what has become a tense and bitter rivalry. “In practice, our practices now are the same as they’ve been. We’ve been going 100 percent, competing, competing, and nothing has changed. We have the most intense competitors out there, and that is showing on the practice field, and it shows up on game day.”
As it does with the 49ers. For every Sherman, Kam Chancellor, Bobby Wagner and Michael Bennett in Seattle, there are Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman, Donte Whitner and Justin Smith in San Francisco.
And more. Everywhere.
“You have to be physical, you want to make them think about you out there,” said Whitner, who considered changing his name to Hitner last year. “That’s an important part of the game.”
It works both ways, too. Bowman, an All-Pro linebacker, revels in the physicality of Anquan Boldin, the veteran receiver who joined the 49ers this season. Boldin is among the toughest players at his position in the NFL.
Make that one of the toughest at any position, offense or defense.
“Him making the big plays for us when we need it, understanding where the stick is when he’s catching the ball, all those things,” Bowman says in praising Boldin, who helped beat the 49ers in last season’s Super Bowl while he was a Ravens wideout. ‘And intimidating those cornerbacks. He’s so strong that corners understand that, so they back off on him and just try to make that tackle. But he just does a great job with just making big plays for us.”
Any meetings on the field Sunday between Sherman and Chancellor against Boldin could be epic. They surely will make highlight reels the way NASCAR crashes tend to.
Yet Pete Carroll, whose coaching style always has leaned toward the assertive — he made his mark as a defensive coordinator whose units attacked to the whistle — doesn’t quite buy the intimidation label, even if some of his players do.
“That’s a word I would not go to,” he said Friday. “It does not seem like it fits, to me. There are a bunch of guys on this football team and that football team who are very serious about playing good ball on defense.”
And serious about letting offensive players know who is boss.
“Ask Kam Chancellor,” Seahawks receiver Doug Baldwin said of the safety he often practices against. “I would say yes to some degree, some players get intimidated, some don’t. I always tell Kam if he ever tried to mess with me I’ll punch him in the mouth. I don’t take to intimidation very well.”
There are other ways of putting fear — or at least hesitation — in an opponent, anyway.
Baldwin’s fellow wideout in Seattle, Golden Tate, stresses performance.
“Intimidation comes from what you lay out there for them to see on film, what you do on the field,” he said. “I think my play — jumping for catches, going across the middle, catching the ball in the end zone, breaking a punt return with the guys blocking for me up front — and backing it up by making more plays, that’s what can be intimidating.”