There are encroachment penalties, and then there's what Ahmad Brooks did against Cam Newton and the Panthers on Sunday.
With Carolina facing third-and-1 from the San Francisco 1-yard line, Brooks took off from his inside linebacker position, leaped over both the defensive and offensive lines and landed beyond Newton, who was under center. The only problem - the ball hadn't been snapped and Brooks was flagged for one of the most spectacular and obvious off-sides penalties in the history of the game.
Brooks today said it was calculated. He had 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 very much. Indeed, the 49ers stonewalled running back Mike Tolbert when third down was re-run and Carolina had to kick a field goal on fourth down.
"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 was at Virginia, registering a sack. Brooks was an inside linebacker then, and the 49ers moved him back to that 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, who has 4 ½ sacks from his outside linebacker spot in the first two playoff games, said he enjoyed his short stint on the inside. "That's the position I played all my life," he said. "I got drafted as an inside linebacker (by Cincinnati), so .. that's the position that got me into the NFL."
Brooks missed Wednesday's practice with what he described as a "severe" head cold. He was wearing a head sock during his locker-room interview in an attempt to "sweat it out." He said he planned to join his teammates at practice this afternoon.
-- Matt Barrows