There are encroachment penalties, and then there’s what Ahmad Brooks did against Cam Newton and the Panthers in Sunday’s NFC divisional playoffs.
With Carolina facing third and goal from the San Francisco 1-yard line in the second quarter, Brooks took off from his inside linebacker position, leaped over the defensive and offensive lines and landed beyond Newton, who was under center.
Just one problem: The ball hadn’t been snapped and Brooks was flagged for one of the most spectacular offside penalties you’ll see.
Brooks on Thursday said it was calculated. He successfully stopped the Panthers at the goal line one possession earlier. And he knew that even if he mistimed his leap, the 49ers wouldn’t truly be penalized because the ball, already on the edge of the goal line, wouldn’t be moved ahead much. Indeed, the 49ers stonewalled running back Mike Tolbert when third down was rerun, and Carolina had to kick a field goal.
“That idea right there, NaVorro (Bowman) was telling me, ‘Ahmad, jump over the line. Wreak havoc.’ ” Brooks said. “Then the second time they got down there, I was going to do the same thing, but I was offsides.”
It wasn’t the first time Brooks went over the top. He dropped in, literally, on Virginia Tech quarterback Bryan Randall when he played at Virginia, registering a sack. Brooks, who was an inside linebacker in college, now plays outside linebacker. But the 49ers moved him back to his former position in short-yardage situations for the Panthers game.
Defensive coordinator Vic Fangio said the 49ers knew the Panthers liked to use Newton as a runner when they were near the goal line and that Newton liked to go over the top of the line in those situations. So they told the 260-pound Brooks to meet him in the air if he had a chance.
“I told him that if the ball got inside the 1 that he had to be ready for the quarterback sneak, and that’s what he was anticipating, and he jumped the gun a little bit,” Fangio said. “I told him if the quarterback goes up high, you’ve got to go up with him.”
Brooks missed Wednesday’s practice with what he described as a “severe” head cold. He practiced in full Thursday.
“We’re hoping that he can get 100 percent healthy,” Fangio said. “And then we’ll see exactly what his role will be at that point.”
With Rogers out of action the past two games, Tarell Brown and Tramaine Brock have started at cornerback, with Perrish Cox filling in as the nickel cornerback. Asked if there might be an inclination to continue with that largely successful arrangement, Fangio said, “All possibilities are on the table.”
Asked if Richard Sherman, who led the NFL with eight interceptions this season, was the best cornerback in the league, the 49ers wide receiver said, “I don’t know (anything) about the best cornerbacks in the league. I just know teams, you know. We are playing the Seattle Seahawks and hopefully we come out with a win. We are going hard.”
So how does the Seattle defense rank in terms of its secondary?
“They move around. They are pretty good, pretty good,” Crabtree said. “They are a good football team. We got some good guys, too. So it is going to be a good game.”