Nobody’s suggesting they show up to a fistfight waving an olive branch.
Just be smart.
As much as the Seattle Seahawks will be tempted to at this point, they don’t have to prove their toughness. They’ve split two scraps with the San Francisco 49ers already this season.
Sunday, with the NFC championship at stake, along with the Super Bowl berth that goes with it, this game between two evenly matched teams will be won with execution and intelligence.
They must play with passionate intensity from snap-to-whistle and sideline-to-sideline. But after the whistle, they’ll benefit from doing nothing but walk back to the huddle as if nothing happened.
It’s called tactical restraint. Or, as Kipling counseled: “... keep your head while all about you are losing theirs.”
If you wonder why it is so important in this game, you haven’t paid attention to the burgeoning blood feud between the Seahawks and the 49ers.
Every interaction between a receiver and defensive back is as volatile as a tinderbox. Every special-teams play features 11 points of friction.
Walk away, men, before the flags start to fall.
Penalties are not created equally; some kill drives, some are worth the risk, and some make statements. But the most dangerous reveal a lack of discipline. Those are the ones that must be avoided.
Last week, San Francisco receiver Anquan Boldin played with his usual passion against Carolina, but got away with a dead-ball head-butt that could have been costly.
“You have to learn how to channel your energy in the right area,” said Seahawks safety Earl Thomas.
Seahawks receiver Golden Tate is another given to enthusiastic dialogue with defenders.
“We’re playing aggressive, good football,” Tate said. “I mean, every now and then we make a bonehead mistake, and we’ve just got to mentally stay focused.”
Bonehead mistakes are costly in the regular season, but lethal in the postseason, where the margin of victory can be so slim that one play here or there can make a huge difference. Even one 15-yard penalty can change the momentum.
In the Seahawks’ three losses this season, the effects of penalties were obvious.
Dec. 8 at Candlestick Park, in a 19-17 loss to the Niners, Seattle rushed 23 times for a hard-fought 86 yards. But nine penalties ended up costing them 85 yards.
The numbers were more obvious factors in their other two losses. They were penalized 102 yards against Arizona – equal to nearly all of Seattle’s 108 total passing yards – while the Cardinals had 46 yards in penalties.
And against Indianapolis, their 85 yards in penalties were 50 yards more than those of the Colts.
The swaggering Seahawks secondary is not going to change its approach or attitude, but the trick is to sucker the 49ers into losing their cool and drawing the flags. It worked in Seattle’s victory this season at CenturyLink: The 49ers were flagged 12 times for 121 yards in a 29-3 loss.
Safety Kam Chancellor said he hears the chatter on the field, and generally ignores it.
“I’m always going to look at it and try to break it up because I feel like if you’re focusing on yapping and trying to get the best of this person with words, it could be a distraction,” Chancellor said. “I think if you just focus on playing football with your teammates, let that guy talk and let him be a distraction to himself and his team.”
Cornerback Richard Sherman, surely the Seahawk most nettlesome to opposing receivers, explained that it’s not as hard as some might think to get control of the emotions.
“I think everybody has a switch they turn on on game day,” Sherman said. “You can’t be these intense, super-physical guys off the field or you’d go to jail.”
So Sherman and Thomas and others may not slow down their commentary, but they’ll gladly turn the other cheek if they can pick up 15 yards for their team.
“We have a disciplined football team that understands the intensity of the moments,” Sherman said. “It’s playoff football, so we’ll deal with it well. You go out there and compete and if that’s how (they) compete, yeah, we’ll deal with it.”
No need for head-butts or “crazy stuff,” Sherman said.
The most effective way to deal with a receiver who might wish to get tangled up in a penalty-worthy scrap?
“You slow him down and you stop him,” Sherman said. “If you don’t want him in your face every play, don’t let him touch the ball.”