RENTON, Wash. — No San Francisco? Check.
No New England? Check.
No hard feelings? Well ...
There were ruffled feathers and bruised feelings from coast to coast Monday in the aftermath of the NFL’s conference title games.
In Seattle, the Seahawks were both celebrating their victory over the 49ers and dealing with the fallout in the wake of cornerback Richard Sherman’s unseemly, chest-thumping outburst on national TV, moments after he made the game-saving play.
In Foxborough, Mass., Patriots Coach Bill Belichick leveled a serious accusation against one of his former stars, Denver receiver Wes Welker, accusing him of dirty play in a hit that took out cornerback Aqib Talib in the Broncos’ big win.
Outside of New England, Sherman was all the talk. A quick rewind: Sherman was interviewed within minutes of deflecting a would-be touchdown pass to San Francisco’s Michael Crabtree, a tipped ball that the Seahawks intercepted. Sherman was flagged for putting his hands to his throat to make a choke sign. Minutes later, in an interview with Fox Sports’ Erin Andrews, Sherman screamed: “I’m the best corner in the game! When you try me with a sorry receiver like Crabtree, that’s the result you’re gonna get!”
The reaction was swift and visceral, with fans and even players from other NFL teams ripping Sherman, a Stanford graduate who’s typically good-natured and happy-go-lucky, and whose bombastic comments usually border on comically endearing. But not this time.
Seahawks Coach Pete Carroll said he had a talk with Sherman on Monday and reminded him how important it is that one outspoken player not steal the spotlight from one of the greatest team accomplishments in franchise history.
“He was really clear that the last thing he wanted to do was take something away from our team and what we had accomplished,” Carroll said. “He got caught right in the throes of the battle and all that, and there’s a little bit of leeway there, particularly for guys who play on such an edge emotionally, like Richard. ... It’s something that came out in the heat of the game and all the emotion.”
Across the country, on his weekly radio show, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady scolded Sherman for his on-air eruption. Brady and Sherman have a history, as Sherman got in Brady’s face last season after the Seahawks beat New England in Seattle.
“I don’t know [Sherman] at all,” Brady said on Boston’s WEEI. “I’ve watched him play. He’s that kind of guy. So, you know, I approach the game — and I have respect for my opponents. That’s the way our team always plays. We win with graciousness, and when we lose, we could do better. Some teams don’t always do that, or that’s not their program.”
Sherman responded to a text from The Times on Monday afternoon, writing that he’s going to “stay off the radar for a few days.” But earlier, in a weekly column for TheMMQB.com, he wrote: “It was loud, it was in the moment, and it was just a small part of the person I am. I don’t want to be a villain, because I’m not a villainous person.”
Sherman said he attempted to shake Crabtree’s hand after making the play “but he ignored me.”
“I patted him, stuck out my hand and said, ‘Good game, good game.’ That’s when he shoved my face, and that’s when I went off,” Sherman said.
There were also reports of fans throwing food at 49ers linebacker NaVorro Bowman after he was carted off the field with torn knee ligaments. A Seattle TV station aired footage of popcorn raining down on him as he was taken through the locker-room tunnel.
“If it’s true,” Sherman wrote, “it’s beyond terrible. That’s as low as it gets.”
Meanwhile, Belichick implied Welker established a new low with his hit on Talib, who was attempting to cover Broncos receiver Demaryius Thomas on a crossing route in the second quarter. He was clobbered by Welker, who was running the opposite direction and slammed into him, their shoulders colliding. Talib left the game with a knee injury.
“I think it was a deliberate play by the receiver to take out Aqib, no attempt to get open,” Belichick said. “I’ll let the league handle the discipline on that play. It’s not for me to decide, but it’s one of the worst plays I’ve seen.”
Welker said after the game he did not intend to hurt Talib.
“I wanted to come underneath and we just kind of collided,” the receiver said. “It wasn’t a deal where I was trying to hit him or anything like that.”
Welker was not flagged on the play, and there’s a great deal of speculation that Belichick reacted so strongly because of the raw feelings that linger about Welker’s decision to leave the Patriots for the Broncos.