Yesterday New York Giants offensive coordinator Kevin Gilbride gave a backhanded compliment for the ages to the San Francisco 49ers’ defensive line, in particular questioning Justin Smith’s play in regards to the rules.

“Smith is a beast on the inside,” Gilbride said to the New York media. “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.”

As if this burgeoning rivalry between the 49ers and the Giants needed any help. You knew a certain man wearing a black hat and sweatshirt was going to fire back, and he did not disappoint. From an email sent by the 49ers’ PR staff:

Statement from 49ers head coach Jim Harbaugh prior to today’s practice:

“Kevin Gilbride’s outrageous, irrational statement regarding Justin Smith’s play is, first, an absurd analogy. 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.”

In the NBA, especially when Phil Jackson was coaching in the playoffs, public comments made with the underlying hope that an official might listen are commonplace. It doesn’t happen as often in the NFL.

Can there be any doubt that Harbaugh reads and watches everything? He has made unprompted statements defending A.J. Jenkins and Kyle Williams just in the past few months, but those were shots at reporters. Never before has Harbaugh responded publicly in this manner to an opposing coach. Add this verbal skirmish to the NFC Championship Game from last season and the fact that the 49ers signed former Giants Mario Manningham and Brandon Jacobs, and Sunday’s game has the potential to be quite explosive.

And for those who are wondering, head coaches do not shake hands with offensive coordinators from the other side after games, so we won’t get to see just how hard Harbaugh can slap Gilbride’s back.