San Francisco 49ers

Matthew Barrows: Can the 49ers overcome the ‘chippy’ factor in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game?

Chippy. adjective, (CHIP-ee).

1. Ice Hockey. using or characterized by aggressive, rough play or commission of fouls: a chippy player; a chippy second period.

2. Canadian. irritable; ill-tempered.

Thank you, Canada, for such a wonderful word, one that promises to be uttered again and again before, during and after Sunday’s NFC Championship Game between the 49ers and Seahawks in Seattle. The over/under on how many times you’ll hear or read “chippy” by the time you go to bed Sunday: 131/2.

While the 49ers and their always-amped wide receiver, Anquan Boldin, certainly are capable of chippy behavior, the Seahawks are positively teeming with it. They have Ph.Ds in chippiness. Their chippy cups runneth over.

Their goal, especially at home, is to burrow under an opponent’s skin, nettle and distract him, and otherwise – to return to Canada for a moment – goad him into dropping his gloves and drawing a penalty. Used in conjunction with the deafening din of CenturyLink Field, it has become a very effective strategy.

Their chatterbox cornerback, Richard Sherman, is especially diabolical when it comes to this approach. He is the Woody Woodpecker of NFL players – an instigator extraordinaire who jaws and gestures at opponents during the game and who never fails to get in a few well-placed digs after a Seahawks win.

Against the Saints last Saturday, the chippiness began early.

More than two hours before kickoff, New Orleans tight end Jimmy Graham, the team’s most talented pass catcher, nearly got into a scrap with Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin, who told Graham he was warming up on the wrong side of the field, knocked a football out of his hands and kicked it away. Later during warmups, Sherman and Graham shouted at each other.

The normally mild-mannered Graham fell into Seattle’s trap before the first snap. He had one catch for 8 yards, and that in the final minute of the game.

“It’s hard coming in here talking a big game,” Sherman said afterward, a Cheshire-cat grin spread across his face. “It’s hard, it’s hard. It’s a lamb coming to the wolves and throwing meat at them.”

The 49ers also have been suckered in Seattle.

In their previous two trips there, they have been penalized 18 times for 179 yards. That includes five personal foul-type penalties for 66 yards. Right tackle Anthony Davis has had one lose-your-cool personal foul at the end of each blowout loss.

And yet the plain-as-day theme heading into Sunday’s game is that the 49ers are not the same team that lost their previous two games in Seattle. They’re more focused. They’re more well-equipped. They’re better.

No team traveled more and farther this season, and the 49ers are the only team left in the postseason that hasn’t had a home playoff game. They are hardened and battle-tested. And their road wins have convinced them they are a team of destiny.

The 49ers know Seattle’s tactics well. They got a good preview Sunday when the Carolina Panthers’ defense tried to rough them up and get into their heads with chippy play early in the game. The 49ers didn’t respond, and Carolina finished with eight penalties for 73 yards, including critical ones on each of the 49ers’ first three scoring drives.

The Seahawks are an excellent team, and they are particularly ferocious at home.

But the 49ers are more talented, and they are the more experienced team when it comes to big games. This will be their third NFC Championship Game in three years.

If they can use that experience and block out everything else – the noise, Sherman’s mouth, the chippy tactics – it will allow that talent to take over, and they will win.

“At the end of the day, you have to play football,” said Boldin, the 49ers’ MVP. “You can do all the talk and rah-rah you want to. ... When all that emotion wears off, you’re still left with playing football, and that’s when the real guys show up.”

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