SANTA CLARA -- Ahmad Brooks' penalized hit on Saints quarterback Drew Brees continues to draw ire around the league, from the likes of 49ers defensive coordinator Vic Fangio to even NFC West foe Carson Palmer of the Arizona Cardinals.
Much of that talk centered on a quarterback's "strike zone" -- the permitted, upper-body area where they can be hit -- and whether Brooks indeed hit that on his fumble-forcing sack late in the 49ers' 23-20 loss Sunday at New Orleans.
"In real time, he hit the guy in the right place," Fangio said Tuesday morning on KNBR 680. "You talk about the strike zone, when you hit quarterbacks. He hit him within the strike zone. Then the impact of the hit and everything that preceded it was just the natural flow of the play.
"So for him to be penalized for that, I think is wrong. And if it's the right call, then it's a flaw in the rule."
Brooks' right arm hooked across Brees' upper body, impacting his right shoulder and sliding up to the quarterback's neck, which is an off-limits region according to the rulebook that calls for a 15-yard, personal-foul penalty.
Dean Blandino, the NFL's Vice President of Officiating, stood by the call and claimed Brooks' arm was "clearly around the neck" of a "defenseless" quarterback.
"You can't make forcible contact to the head or the neck area, even if the contact starts below the neck and rises up," Blandino said on the NFL Network. "If there's force to that contact, it's a foul. Watch the initial contact, maybe around the shoulder, but it rides up into the neck area and brings the quarterback down with force."
Blandino was not available for further comment, as this newspaper requested an interview through a league spokesman.
Brooks, teammates and several league observers disagreed with the call. Coach Jim Harbaugh said Monday he thought Brooks hit Brees at an acceptable point and that didn't merit a negative grade among 49ers coaches.
Added Fangio: "When a 265-pound guy hits a much smaller guy, there's going to be impact, there's going to be head-whip. ... I definitely don't want to take the aggressiveness away from our players. He was being aggressive legally on the impact of the hit."
On Tuesday, Brees told ESPN.com that Brooks is a "hard-nosed, clean football player," but that the play obviously merited a penalty. "I can tell you how I felt when I got hit. It felt like I got my head ripped off," Brees said. "And I get up and I've got a mouth full of blood. So there was no doubt in my mind that, 'Hey, it's gonna be a penalty.' "
Protecting quarterbacks has taken on added emphasis by the league in recent years with the adoption of stricter rules guarding against injury-causing hits.
The Cardinals' Palmer appreciates the improved safety measures but sympathized with Brooks' plight.
"If I look at it objectively, maybe you wouldn't call it as a penalty," Palmer said on "The Dan Patrick Show" on the NBC Sports Network. "But defensive ends and defensive players know that the way quarterbacks are protected these days, you've got to do what you can to keep your arms down, keep your head up and make that contact around the numbers."
Brooks, amid his postgame rant, wondered what he could have done differently. Then he added: "I guess I could have tackled him lower."
Former NFL sack specialist Michael Strahan called it a "clean hit." Strahan, a Fox Sports analyst, said on ESPN's "Mike & Mike" that the play initially looked bad, then added: "But when you actually had a chance to see it, that was so far from a penalty, in my opinion, on what a penalty should be. ... We understand it's a quarterback-driven game, but you've got to give some respect to the guys on the defensive side."
Added "Mike & Mike" co-host Mike Golic: "By the letter of the law, I get it's a penalty. But I'm so unhappy it's a penalty in the NFL today."
Two other ESPN personalities, retired linebackers Ray Lewis and Tedy Bruschi, have offered to fund Brooks' potential fine from the NFL. A day after Lewis offered up his credit card on the "Monday Night Football" set, Bruschi did so on "SportsCenter.
49ers (6-4) at Washington (3-7), 5:40 p.m. ESPN, Ch. 5