By Daniel Brown San Jose Mercury News
NEW ORLEANS — This time, Chris Culliver saw no need to apologize.
Despite surrendering a 56-yard touchdown pass as part of what one teammate called “a rough one,” the controversial 49ers cornerback defended his play after the Baltimore Ravens’ 34-31 victory Sunday in Super Bowl XLVII.
“I don’t care if they was targeting me or not,” he said. “They weren’t getting open except for the deep players.”
And also: “How many pass breakups did I have?”
And also: “They made their plays, we made ours. You can’t stop everything.”
His brief session in the locker room marked the second time this week that Culliver found himself answering uncomfortable questions. On Thursday, the second-year player from South Carolina spent his news conference apologizing for the anti-gay remarks he made during an interview with comedian Artie Lange two days earlier.
Many of the 49ers teammates who expressed their support him that day did so again after his performance Sunday.
“I know Cully. He’s a competitor,” linebacker Patrick Willis said. “He had a tough one today, but I’m still behind him.”
Cornerback Carlos Rogers said, “I just told him, ‘Keep your head up. Keep fighting.’ If you play that position, you’re going to give up a play.”
The play that put Culliver back in the spotlight this time came on a third-and-10 with 1:58 to play in the first half. Jacoby Jones, the Ravens’ speedy wideout, lined up on the right side and ran a double move against Culliver and began gliding open over the middle of the field.
Jones was 5 yards behind Culliver by the time quarterback Joe Flacco stepped up in the pocket and launched a deep pass that badly was underthrown. Jones turned and caught the ball falling backward at the 9.
Compounding the breakdown for the 49ers secondary was that Culliver ran past Jones, who bounced up before being touched down. Jones made a few more shifty moves, eluding free safety Dashon Goldson and Culliver one more time on his way to the end zone.
“That was just like a backyard game, catch-me-if-you can,” Jones said. “That’s like playing freeze tag.”
That play gave the Ravens a 21-3 lead. It also marked just the second time this season that a 49ers opponent registered a passing play of more than 40 yards, a miscue so rare that it raised the question of whether the distractions of the week caught up with Culliver.
“No, (the week) didn’t affect him,” Rogers said. “He said what he said. He apologized. He moved on, and the team moved on.”
The play that most upset Culliver was the play right before Jones’ long TD. He wanted offensive pass interference called on the Ravens’ Torrey Smith, whose hand touched Culliver’s helmet about the time the ball arrived.
“Hey, they’re the refs. They see what they want to see,” Culliver said. “They can’t really make or break a game, but you see it all the time.”
Culliver did have two pass breakups and four tackles. He saw no reason to hang his head.
“It would be a positive outcome for us,” he said, “but not every game is going to go our way.”