Programming note: Not near a TV on Sunday? Catch the 49ers-Texans game LIVE with NBC Sports' Live Extra
Remember that bone crushing hit Donte Whitner laid on Saints running back Pierre Thomas in the 2011 season's NFC Divisional game? The one that caused Thomas to fumble two yards from the endzone and sent a message that scoring on San Francisco's defense would not only be physically difficult, but painful? Whitner says no way would that hit be legal this season.
"This year," Whitner said, "it would have been called. That year it wasn't, so that just shows you how the game is changing."
The 49ers' strong safety has personal reasons for not liking how he sees the game changing. The league fined Whitner $21,000 for his hit that shook the ball loose from Rams receiver Chris Givens in the endzone in the 49ers win over the Rams last Thursday night. Whitner was flagged for unnecessary roughness, though Whitner says he and all of his coaches believe the hit was legit.
"I'm going to the midsection where the ball is with my shoulder. You can actually see me turn my shoulder and lay off the hit. If I would have ran through the guy, then I think I would have deserved what I got," Whitner said. "To see $21,000 you would think I knocked the guy out."
Whitner calls the fine excessive given that the only time he remembers being fined for an illegal hit came his rookie year. In contract, the league fined Packers linebacker Clay Matthews $15,000 when he clotheslined Colin Kaepernick as the quarterback was well on his way out of bounds. Matthew's hit was clearly illegal. Whitner's was not. But Whitner is frustrated as he sees the league flagging both types of hits without making the distinction.
"Any big hit nowadays, whether you lead with the crown of your helmet," Whitner said, "they're all making that call based on the way the hit looks not based on a guy actually going in there lowering his head and connecting with the crown of his helmet. [There] should be some way to correct that because it could be a big game, a playoff game and a guy doesn't go in there with the crown of his helmet but it looks like a big hit and you get fined, and that could cost us a ballgame and a really important game."
"If we are going to make these calls then let's get some instant replay and be able to overturn them or keep the fines. I think it's a little bit unfair right now."
Whitner is appealing the fine, but has no plans to change how he plays. He laughed that after the game Givens even came up to him and said "good hit".
"If the guy who was hit thought it was legal, then I don't know what else to do.," Whitner said. "I know the intent is not there. If the intent isn't there, then I don't know what we can do as players," Whitner said. "Maybe put flags on and pull those off. Maybe fans will like that. Maybe not."