Harbaugh’s cornerback comments inflame rivalry between 49ers and Seahawks

Doug Farrar
Shutdown Corner

Remember a couple weeks back when San Francisco 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh expressed outrage over New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride's take that 49ers defensive tackle Justin Smith was "getting away with murder" with his defensive holding? Apparently, Harbaugh's ability to take offense at coaches attempting to influence officiating through the media does not extend to himself.

The day after the 49ers beat the Seattle Seahawks, 13-6, on "Thursday Night Football" last week, Harbaugh was asked about Seattle's aggressive secondary play. Asked if his receivers seemed "locked up" by the Seahawks' practice of jamming receivers aggressively at the line of scrimmage and beyond, Harbaugh was specific without being specific.

"Well, I wouldn't use the words 'locked up,'" he said. "There's another word I would use. But, we'll take that up with the officials in New York, and get their view of it. That's the only position that we can be in ... I think that's just an important thing to address. I mean, what is this all being defined as? Is it physical play? Is it within the rules? I think that's the biggest question, is it within the rules what's happening. We have to ask that question. We have to know what the interpretation is."

This was especially interesting, given that Harbaugh had just finished commending the physical play of San Francisco safety Dashon Goldson, who was locked in quite the battle with Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch. Goldson was flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after tackling Lynch for a loss with 6:53 left in the first quarter.

"Well, two great tackles," Harbaugh said. "The first one out in the open field there and the sideline. They both just locked up like two rams locking up. And it was a big, physical play. Marshawn jumped up and was right in Dashon's face. And then the next one was one of the best front up tackles I've ever seen, where Dashon made that tackle. And then got the penalty. I thought he was talking to Justin [Smith], who was also on the bottom of the pile and on top of Marshawn. So, there was no physical contact there. To me, he was just talking to Justin. But, anyway, referees didn't see it that way."

So ... their side good, your side bad. Got it. In any case, when Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll was asked about it on Monday during an appearance on Seattle's ESPN Radio affiliate, he had this to say:

"Wasn't it just a couple weeks ago when they were talking about not doing things like that? The Giants, Kevin Gilbride or something like that? You know, I thought there was something about that, you know? Where we don't go out and express our concerns and all."

According to the NFL's replacement and real officials, at least, the Seahawks have cleaned up their game this season. Cornerback Brandon Browner, the most physically aggressive player in that defensive backfield, drew an amazing 19 penalties in 2011, and has amassed just four through seven games this season. Fellow cornerback Richard Sherman, who was called for 10 infractions in 2011, has just two flags this year. Either the Seahawks are playing with a new hands-off approach (which they aren't), they've learned to play their way with better technique (which is entirely possible), or the refs are operating with a different point of emphasis this season (which is also entirely possible).

Harbaugh, of course, was asked about Carroll's comments regarding his comments ... and at that point, Harbaugh seemed to want to shut the whole thing down.

"No, I don't think so," he said, when asked if there were any similarities between what he said and what Gilbride said. "And anytime you ask me about anything, the officiating from a game, previous game or an upcoming game, there's a way we've been instructed to handle that. And that is to not criticize the officiating and to address any concerns, and also just anything you want clarification of, or interpretation with, with the officials in New York. So, that's what we've been instructed to do. That's the way I'm going to answer all the questions, whatever you all ask or have your own concerns. That's the protocol. So, that's how I've been instructed to go about it. That's what we'll do."

As for Browner, he was less than impressed with Harbaugh's comments. "You're supposed to be happy after you win a football game, right?  I'm not big for media anyway. That's just who he is, I guess ... It's obnoxious to me since they won the football game. We play a physical sport."

The Seahawks and 49ers face off again at CenturyLink Field in Seattle on Sunday, Dec. 23. Don't expect much Christmas spirit between these two teams in what has become one of the NFL's most intense rivalries.