With all the injuries, retirements and free agent losses that have changed the face of both the Minnesota Vikings and the San Francisco 49ers, there are a lot of potential matchups that haven’t been seen before, but this week’s key matchup is going to be a non-stop battle between a pair of veterans who excel at what they do – Vikings cornerback Captain Munnerlyn and 49ers wide receiver Anquan Boldin.
Boldin has survived in the shadow of other receivers for much his career. He spent seven years in Arizona as the sidekick to Larry Fitzgerald, despite posting four 1,000-yard seasons in that span. Disgruntled with the seeming lack of respect he got in Arizona, he helped push a trade that sent him to Baltimore. While he didn’t have a 1,000-yard season in his three seasons with the Ravens, he was a steady player who consistently produced solid numbers.
However, in his two seasons with San Francisco, he has finally arrived as a No. 1 receiver. In 2013, he caught 85 passes for 1,179 yards and seven touchdowns and followed that up last year with 83 catches for 1,062 yards and five touchdowns. Along the way, he has maintained the “me-against-the-world” attitude that has made him one of the toughest players in the league regardless of position.
“He’s a veteran like myself, but he’s been around for a long time,” Munnerlyn said. “I’ve seen two receivers in the NFL that I’ve said, ‘Man, those are some tough cats’ – Anquan Boldin and Steve Smith. They’re the two toughest receivers I’ve ever seen in this game. They’ve got a defensive mentality. They’re going to get you before you get them. He’s definitely a tough matchup and I’m going to see a lot of him Monday night. He’s a slot guy. I’m a slot guy for this team. I’m excited for the matchup.”
One of the consistent factors in Boldin’s game is that he plays with a lot of physicality and isn’t afraid to get into a defender’s grill and talk some smack. Munnerlyn has experienced that firsthand in his time with the Carolina Panthers and he expects that it will be a two-way street as he and Boldin get up close and personal in the slot play after play after play.
“I’m going to say something and, Anquan, he’s definitely going to say a couple of words,” Munnerlyn said. “There will be a little jawing. I’m sure there’s going to be a little of that. But, at the same time, we’re going to stay within the rules and compete against each other.”
For Munnerlyn, taking on Boldin will be a supreme challenge. Coming off what he has self-admitted was the worst season of his career, he is looking for a fresh start this season. He has been praised since the start of training camp by head coach Mike Zimmer for his play. Such praise was rare last season and it has served as motivation for Munnerlyn, who feels like he has his groove back and is ready to show it out on the field.
“I feel like I’ve got a chip back on my shoulder,” Munnerlyn said. “A seventh-round draft pick, a 5-9 corner. I’m back at it and I feel like this is a fresh, new start for me. It can never go away. Last year, it kind of slid down to my tricep, but now it’s back on my shoulder and I feel like I have to go out there and prove myself again. I don’t mind it. It’s something that I’m used to doing.”
With a 49ers team in significant transition and a Vikings team moving forward with a youth movement that is expected to bear fruit this season, there will be a lot of key matchups involving young players. But the one that will bear the most scrutiny will be the battle of a pair of veteran players who are no strangers to the weekly wars of the NFL, making the one-on-one battle between Munnerlyn and Boldin a prime-time matchup to watch.