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Marcio Jose Sanchez, Associated Press
New Orleans Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (80) stiff arms San Francisco 49ers cornerback Carlos Rogers (22) on his way to a touchdown in the fourth quarter of an NFL divisional playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 14, 2012, in San Francisco.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The change in the San Francisco 49ers' attitude this season might be most evident when the defensive backs gather in a team meeting room each week to watch the highlight video from the previous game.

Secondary coach Ed Donatell counts and compares the number of "domination hits" in a fierce and friendly competition among players. The challenge is for each to deliver at least one crushing — but legal — blow on an opponent every game.

The hard-hitting, ball-hawking secondary has created its share of imposing images for San Francisco (14-3) this season, part of a defense that has carried the franchise back to the NFC championship for the first time in 14 years to face the New York Giants (11-7) on Sunday at Candlestick Park.