Around the NFC West: Rams rise for tie at top

Status update after Sunday's games among the 49ers' three divisional rivals in the NFC West, where the St. Louis Rams were the only team to emerge with a victory in Week 4, a high-scoring win over Detroit that puts St. Louis in a tie for the division lead with defending NFC champion Seattle.


As his offense was consistently questioned through the first two weeks of the season, Rams coach Scott Linehan preached patience. Things will come around, he said. We're all just learning to get comfortable with each other, he repeated.

Now, everyone knows what he was talking about. The Rams head to Green Bay this weekend on the heels of a pulse-pounding 41-34 victory over the Lions that suddenly resulted in the team being tied with Seattle for the NFC West lead with a 3-1 record.

Not only did the Rams produce multiple offensive touchdowns for the first time this season, but after numerous red-zone frustrations through the first three weeks of the season -- where they scored just two touchdowns on 10 red-zone trips -- the Rams scored four red-zone touchdowns against the Lions, including the game-winning five-yard pass from quarterback Marc Bulger to wide receiver Isaac Bruce with 1:56 remaining in the game.

Bruce also caught a pass at the back of the end zone for a two-point conversion that gave the Rams a seven-point lead.

"I'm happy for Isaac," Linehan said. "He's like all the other guys, just hanging in there through all the transitions. They're just trying to see how they fit in and what we're trying to get done."

Said wide receiver Torry Holt, "Isaac obviously got more involved today. It's like pick your poison; if you want to double me, then he's going to get it, you double him and I'll have an opportunity to get open."

Both Holt (102) and Bruce (100) reached 100 yards receiving thanks to Bulger getting into a comfort zone with the offense. That could be bad news for the Packers, who entered Monday's game against Philadelphia having allowed 301.0 passing yards per game with a completion percentage of 64.8.

Said Holt of Bulger, "Marc has been posting me up a bit more and he's getting more comfortable and more and more confident. As we make more and more plays for him and boost his confidence, he's going to get in the huddle with his jolts and with his little smile. That right there tells me that, in the game, he is gaining more and more confidence."

Linehan was effusive in his praise for Bulger, who had a passer rating of 110.0 and had three touchdown passes against Detroit. Reflecting on his own agitated reactions to some officials' rulings, Linehan said, "He was pretty darn good, and it is a good thing too, because I was acting like an idiot on the sidelines a couple of times and he just stayed calm. The calmer head prevailed out there. I was really proud of him; that was a heck of a performance."

Consider that in the first two games of the season, Bulger completed 37 of 68 passes for 402 yards and one touchdown with passer ratings of 72.8 and 81.1. The last two games have been a total reversal. In victories over Arizona and Detroit, Bulger completed 47 of 73 passes (64.4 percent) for 637 yards and four touchdowns with ratings of 110.8 and 110.0.

Most importantly, Bulger hasn't thrown an interception this season in 141 attempts. Dating back to last season, he has gone 22 quarters and 186 attempts without an interception. As a team, the Rams have just three turnovers in four games, to go with 13 takeaways.

Said guard Adam Timmerman, "I think we are going to continue to see the timing get better and better each week out. I don't know whether it is timing or rhythm, but it is starting to roll now. This win is a great sign. I think we will build on this one."

--- LT Orlando Pace was inactive for the game against Detroit as the result of residual effects from a concussion suffered Sept. 17 against San Francisco. Pace played against Arizona Sept. 24, but was experiencing headaches after the game. The Rams hope that having him sit out a game will prevent the concussion from bothering him all season.
--- OL Todd Steussie started and played the entire game against Detroit at left tackle with Orlando Pace sidelined by a concussion. Steussie struggled at times against DE James Hall. But QB Marc Bulger was sacked only once and did an excellent job of stepping up in the pocket.
--- OG Adam Goldberg started at left guard against Detroit because Todd Steussie moved from guard to tackle with Orlando Pace out with a concussion. Dating back to his days with the Vikings, Goldberg is now 7-0 against Detroit.
--- DE Anthony Hargrove, who did not play the week before against Arizona because of disciplinary reasons, was active for Sunday's game against Detroit.
--- DT Claude Wroten was inactive for the first time this season, as the Rams dressed four ends and three tackles. Wroten had played sparingly in the first three games of the season.
--- LB Pisa Tinoisamoa, who dislocated his elbow Sept. 17 against San Francisco and played the next week against Arizona, left in the second quarter of Sunday's game against Detroit with another dislocation, but returned seven plays later.


Frustrated by three consecutive losses and offensive ineptness, coach Dennis Green decided the future is now. He's benched Kurt Warner and will start rookie quarterback Matt Leinart Sunday against Kansas City.

This is not a temporary fix, or a move that Green made suddenly. He contemplated it after the loss to St. Louis in Week 3 and decided during last week's 32-10 loss to Atlanta to make the move.

"That's not an emotional decision," Green said. "I had a lot of time to think about it while we were losing very badly."

Green had to do something, and Warner didn't do anything to convince him to stay the course. He had an interception returned for a touchdown and fumbled twice, losing one. That gives him 10 fumbles on the year.

"I wasn't making enough plays to help us win," Warner said. "Hopefully, Matt can step in and help us in doing that."

But Leinart will struggle, too, unless improvement is made elsewhere. The offensive line has been inconsistent, both in run blocking and pass protection. Unless that improves, Leinart will have a difficult baptism.

Warner, as usual, took the high road when Green announced the change immediately after last week's game. He helped Leinart warm up and was seen talking to him quietly in the locker room. But in a roundabout way, Warner sounded a warning for the rest of the team.

"I think the bottom line is you understand it's a team effort," he said. "It takes 11 guys on any snap to get this thing done, not just one guy. Hopefully, Matt can spark something and go in there and work some of his magic like he had before and help turn this thing around."

Leinart, who had an interception and a fumble last week in his debut, is confident he's ready.

"I have a lot of confidence," he said. "I'm not an arrogant or cocky person, but inside, I have a lot of confidence just from college days until now. I feel like I can play. I know I can go out there and do the job."

He'll need a better running game than the Cardinals have produced.

The Cardinals run a one-back offense in the truest meaning of the phrase. Edgerrin James is the only back getting any playing time.

Through four games, other running backs have carried just twice. Coaches don't seem troubled by this, and Green has said he would like to get James even more work.

James is averaging 22 carries. Green would like to see that average increase to about 25. The Cardinals' offense is still built upon the pass, so that leaves few carries for the other running backs.

"We brought a guy in here that we want to rush for 1,500 yards," Green said, referring to James, who signed a four-year, $30 million contract in the off-season. "Now, you can't do that without the football. You can't do it without 25 carries a game."

So the other backs have been relegated to special teams roles, even though both have starting experience. Backup J.J. Arrington has carried just three times this season. His main role is as the kickoff returner.

Marcel Shipp plays on nearly every special team, but he hasn't carried the ball this season.

Part of the reason for other backs' inactivity is that James is so versatile. He picks up the blitz well and he's an excellent receiver, so coaches want him on the field on third down.

James has been begging for the ball more.

"I just always feel like, the game is real simple -- use the person that's open," he said. "I just want to be part of it. I know I can help. That's one thing I'll never get away from, saying I know I can help this team."

--- QB Matt Leinart completed five of eight passes in his NFL debut, but he also had an interception, was sacked once and lost a fumble. He received a brief indoctrination into what's it's like to be a Cardinals quarterback.
--- RB Edgerrin James carried 20 times for 41 yards last week. On three of his first four carries, he was hit in the backfield as the Cardinals' offensive line was dominated.
--- WR Larry Fitzgerald caught just three passes. One was for 46 yards, but the Cardinals weren't able to get him the ball the rest of the day.
--- CB David Macklin could return to the starting lineup this week. Eric Green was benched in the first half last week, and Macklin, the starter in Week 1, took over.
--- MLB Gerald Hayes is playing well and has given the team a physical presence in the middle.
--- SS Adrian Wilson had a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown against Atlanta. That set a club record, eclipsing a 96-yarder that Larry Wilson had against Cleveland in 1965.


The Seahawks head into their bye week reeling after their embarrassing 37-6 loss to the Bears at Soldier Field.

Losing to the Bears wasn't a big surprise. Getting pounded shocked everyone. Seattle hadn't lost by that many points since a 41-3 defeat to the New York Jets in the 1997 season opener.

"The physical beating I don't think hurts as much as the disappointment of how we played tonight, and how we really didn't execute any of the stuff that we set out to do," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said.

The Seahawks are 3-1 and tied for the NFC West lead, but they have failed to score a touchdown in two road games. Seattle needed a last-second field goal to beat Detroit in the opener. The Lions, like the Bears, sacked Hasselbeck five times.

There were several ways to interpret the Seahawks' first loss of the season.

"Just give credit to the Bears," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "That was it. If we get them again, I hope we play better."

The absence of running back Shaun Alexander wasn't really a factor against the Bears. This was more about matching the intensity of a hungry, physical opponent with something to prove.

"We got some work to do," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said, "and as much as I hate to say it, it could be a blessing in disguise. We got to think about, 'How do we want to play this?'"

The Seahawks will need some better decision making from Hasselbeck, for starters. He now has four interceptions in his last six quarters, dating back to a 42-30 victory over the Giants in Week 3. Seattle has been outscored 64-6 in its last six quarters.

Hasselbeck knows better. He'll probably bounce back and play well for most of the rest of the season. But Seattle has yet to prove it can again be as dominant as it was last season.

"We knew these guys were really good," Hasselbeck said after the Bears game. "We knew it was going to be tough coming in, playing on the road and we knew what we had to do.

"We just didn't do it, and it showed."

Seattle's defense dominated in the first three games, but the Bears moved the ball effectively by ground and air. Thomas Jones came within two yards of a 100-yard rushing effort. Rex Grossman tossed two scoring passes on his way to a triple-digit rating.

A Seattle defense that appeared stout in the first three games has shown signs of weakness.

"They got a good defense, they got a good team and they did some things offensively," Seattle receiver Bobby Engram said, "but I'm frustrated at the way we played."

--- QB Matt Hasselbeck finished the game Sunday with the second-lowest rating of his career as a starter, dating back to 2001. He knows better than to force passes into coverage. This was one of his worst efforts in a big game.
--- SS Michael Boulware did not return after suffering a concussion in the first half Sunday. He should be available for the Seahawks' next game, following a bye week.
--- DB Jordan Babineaux was inactive Sunday night because of a concussion. His absence hurt, because Seattle lost SS Michael Boulware to injury. Babineaux and Boulware are expected back for the next game.
--- SS Oliver Celestin played extensively Sunday night after being inactive for the first three games. Celestin played because Seattle lost SS Michael Boulware to injury and DB Jordan Babineaux was inactive following a concussion.
--- TE Itula Mili dropped a pass against the Bears in his first game back from a knee injury.

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