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News, notes and reader questions about the San Francisco 49ers

January 9, 2012
Phantom phone call: Revisiting preseason blitzkrieg in New Orleans

saintsblitz.jpg

It wouldn't be unheard of to think that Jim Harbaugh -- he of the dubious post-game handshakes -- had ruffled the feathers of an opposing coach. And following the 49ers loss to the Saints in the preseason opener this year, the scuttlebutt out of New Orleans was that Harbaugh had offended Saints coach Sean Payton by breaking preseason protocol and not telephoning Payton so that the two head coaches could discuss the parameters of the upcoming game.

The Saints radio announcer, Jim Henderson, said on air the following week that Payton was miffed by the slight to the point where he instructed defensive coordinator Gregg Williams to "let the dogs out" on Harbaugh's offense. And indeed Williams blitzed heavily in that game, sacking the 49ers' quarterbacks six times and leveling starting quarterback Alex Smith several times.

Left tackle Joe Staley admitted today he was "a little upset about it," especially since the Saints were an established defense and the 49ers were playing their first preseason game with a new offense. "We kind of went back to the bench and said, 'Why are they doing this?'" Staley recalled. "We've had, like, a week and a half to prepare."

Harbaugh said the issue was irrelevant, but he acknowledged that he checked to see whether there was indeed a gentlemen's agreement between coaches in the preseason. "Even asked my brother - some kind of gentlemen's agreement where you call a coach before a game, a preseason game? And he wasn't aware of it. And even if there was, we wouldn't do it anyway. We ask no quarter, we give no quarter. That's how we approach it."

Some of the 49ers players who played for the Saints or for Williams said the all-out blitzing was not out of the ordinary. "I'm not surprised to see Gregg blitz at all," said center Jonathan Goodwin, a former Saint. "I remember Gregg blitzed on 9-on-7 periods (in practice) in run periods. It's something I'm used to and I expect. I'm more surprised when he doesn't blitz."

"I knew it. Coming into the preseason, I knew it," said cornerback Carlos Rogers, who played for Williams in Washington. "Gregg don't care. It's like Sean Payton -- it's their game. Two minutes to go, you're up three touchdowns and you're still trying to bomb guys. Gregg is the same way. It's preseason -- why are you sending all these blitzes? That's just his mentality."

Staley, however, wasn't buying it. "No, we'd (seen) them in the preseason before and they never did that," he said. "I don't know why they chose that game."

-- Matt Barrows



MATTHEW BARROWS

Matt was born in Blacksburg, Va., and attended the University of Virginia. He graduated in 1995, went to Northwestern for a journalism degree a year later, and got his first job at a South Carolina daily in 1997. He joined The Bee as a Metro reporter in 1999 and started covering the 49ers in 2003. His favorite player of all time is Darrell Green.

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