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Jim Harbaugh accuses Kevin Gilbride of trying to 'influence officiating' with Justin Smith criticism

By Will Brinson | NFL Writer

Not a shocker, but there's no love lost between the Giants and 49ers following their matchup in the NFC Championship Game. But things are getting a lot more heated a lot more quickly thanks to Giants coordinator Kevin Gilbride's comments on 49ers defensive lineman Justin Smith -- and Jim Harbaugh's response.

Gilbride was asked about Smith on Thursday and called him a "beast" but also said he "gets away with murder."

"Smith is a beast on the inside," Gilbride said. "He's strong. He does as good a job of grabbing a hold of offensive linemen and allowing those twists to take place.

"He never gets called for it, so he gets away with murder."

Harbaugh had precisely the tempered reaction you'd expect, releasing a statement through the 49ers that accuses Gilbride of trying to "influence officiating."

"Kevin Gilbride's outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith's play is, first, an absurd analogy," Harbaugh said in the statement. "Second, it is an incendiary comment targeting one of the truly exemplary players in this league.

"It's obvious that the Giants coaching staff's sole purpose is to use their high visibility to both criticize and influence officiating."

Boy, that really got out of hand quickly, didn't it? This looked like the Presidential debate for a little while ("No, our team can't win! It is OUR backs against the wall!") but it's suddenly turned into what might become a bit of a brawl.

It was going to be a physical game with some shootout potential (see: Prisco's Prophecy in the video up top) but suddenly this is getting remarkably personal. What Gilbride did was really just a bit of gamesmanship, and it's no surprise that Harbaugh jumped to the defense of his player.

But, um, we all knew that Gilbride didn't mean actual murder, and he managed to levy some pretty hefty accusations. Not that anyone ever wants to see an awkward situation on the field, but it wouldn't be the end of the world if Tom Coughlin and Harbaugh had a little handshake kerfuffle at midfield following this one.

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