Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Seahawks, Niners fearless in Seattle

Neither defence ever backs down

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RENTON, Wash. -- Big, bad football players don't get intimidated. Not by noise, weather, statistics or hard hits.

Tell that to the two defences about to attempt to dominate the NFC championship game Sunday.

Seattle and San Francisco ranked first and third in points allowed this season. The Seahawks (14-3) won the NFC West with the stingiest defence 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 favourite 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 offence. You see great offence all the time, people running through zones and guys not being able to cover them.

"We stand up there and have a dogfight 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 per cent, 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 and Donte Whitner in Seattle, there are Patrick Willis, NaVorro Bowman 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. Anquan Boldin, the veteran receiver who joined the 49ers this season is among the toughest players in the NFL, offence or defence.

"He's so strong that corners understand that, so they back off on him and just try to make that tackle," Bowman said.

-- The Associated Press

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 18, 2014 C4

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