Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports
The San Francisco 49ers rely on intimidation to gain momentum on game day. But how long and how consistent can this work?
I was watching the replay of the 49ers-Packers on NFL Network this week. This series is great because not only do you get to review the game and catch things you may have missed the first time, but the network splices in Sound FX from the mic'd up players.
As the 49ers were running out of the tunnel, Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews can be heard saying, "Oh, no, the big bad 49ers."
With his sarcastic Southern California tone, he mocked the hype and identity of this team. But he knows quite well that the 49ers are for real and that that divisional game was going to be big boy football.
"This is a physical ass team, and we're in enemy territory... I need y'all to be some men tonight," Matthews said to his fellow linebackers before kickoff.
It is clear that the 49ers rely on the intangible factor of intimidation. They are the hardest hitting team in pro football - so much so, that it resonates with their future opponents. When San Francisco has that mental edge going into a ball game, it's tough for the other team to compete.
In Week 15 against the New England Patriots, fans and analysts witnessed the hesitance of tight end Aaron Hernandez. He was not running his routes with as much confidence, and on a couple occasions, viewers might suggest that he heard footsteps.
There are many examples, but this is just one such occasion.
This is because - across the board - San Francisco hits painfully hard. They tackle through their opponent, in an attempt to both dislodge the ball and make guys remember what is coming the next time they have possession.
I've wondered what will happen if the 49ers lose that edge. You could say that in their five non-wins, that the 49ers did not have that in their favor. The Giants, Rams, Seahawks and Vikings played with confidence and matched the 49ers punch-for-punch.
All it takes is a team in the right frame of mind. The scary part about this is, it's unpredictable and impossible to game plan for. The Niners are used to coming out and dominating their opponents physically. But when the bully gets bullied, anything can happen.
Right now, it's one game at a time for the Niners. But they have the potential of two more games in the 2012-13 league year with the NFC Championship and the Super Bowl. The 49ers will need this edge against their opponents. However, the three remaining teams all have the intangible factor of playoff experience to counter this.
Through wins and losses, the Falcons, Patriots and Ravens are all battle-tested and can potentially withstand the fear factor that the Niners bring. One of the biggest concerns for San Francisco is how this holds up for the rest of the postseason. Because when they are not intimidating their opponent, they come out flat and reveal their mortality.