Around the NFC West: Rams suddenly on rise

Taking an inside look at the four teams in the NFC West along with report cards from Week 7 games.


Receiver Anquan Boldin is hopeful of playing on Sunday in Carolina, although the game comes just more than weeks after he underwent surgery to repair facial fractures.

In his first comments since undergoing surgery on Oct. 2, Boldin said he had eight plates inserted to repair fractures suffered when he was hit near the end of the Jets game on Sept. 28.

In addition, Boldin suffered a concussion and needed wires in his lower jaw to correct his bite, which was knocked out of alignment on the hit.

Boldin cleared the mandated concussion test last week, he said, and was scheduled to meet with his surgeon on Tuesday.

Boldin is expected to have the wires removed and he's hopeful that he will be cleared to start practicing.

Boldin attended practice last week and has been running routes and lifting weights.

He lost 10 pounds after the surgery but has regained the weight. Boldin has maintained a low media profile since undergoing surgery. He has avoided reporters by leaving practices early and not being available in open locker room sessions.

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WR Larry Fitzgerald practiced on Monday, despite having flu-like symptoms.

"It's time to get back to work and ready to play against Carolina," he said. "It felt weird being at home on Sunday and watching everybody else playing. But it was nice to get off my feet a little bit."

The Cardinals are playing in the Eastern time zone this week, so they know the question is coming: Why can't they win on the road? They are 3-8 there in Ken Whisenhunt's two seasons.

"I think the biggest thing for us offensively is we can't turn the football over," Fitzgerald said. "The times we've turned the football over, we've been unsuccessful. The times we haven't turned the football over, we've been successful."


PASSING OFFENSE: A -- Kurt Warner is dangerous when he gets time. He's had one bad game out of six, and the Cardinals will accept that ratio. The pass protection has been solid, and the club has compensated for the injury to Anquan Boldin. Receiver Steve Breaston continues his dramatic improvement.

RUSHING OFFENSE C -- The Cardinals' strength is in its passing game, so their run statistics aren't going to overwhelm anyone. But the run game has been decent at times, and it's something that should improve as the season develops.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The Cardinals were second in the NFL with 18 sacks before last weekend's games. They have a nice rotation along the defensive front, but the secondary has blown too many coverages.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The Cardinals defensive front seven isn't big, and it relies heavily upon proper gap discipline. They've blown a few plays resulting in big runs, but overall, not bad.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- Two special teams touchdowns helped win the Dallas game. Kicker Neil Rackers is a deadly weapon with his array of kickoffs, including onside and pooch. The coverage teams have been decent.

COACHING: A -- The players believe in coach Ken Whisenhunt, and there is a consistent philosophy from the head coach and his staff. Offensively, the Cardinals have a diversity of weapons and they know how to use them. The defensive staff is comprised of good teachers, and younger players are developing.


What happened at the Edward Jones Dome on Sunday was almost too surreal to believe.

It would have been one thing for St. Louis to beat Dallas. After all, the Cowboys' injury list was lengthy, they were playing with backup quarterback Brad Johnson and they had lost two of their three previous games. There were distractions with the constant discussion of quarterback Tony Romo's pinkie finger and the suspension of cornerback Adam "Pacman" Jones.

But, no one could have imagined the Rams bolting to a 21-7 first-quarter lead, then never letting up in a 20-point spanking where the margin of victory was more than the points the Rams had scored in any previous game this season.

Suddenly, the 2-4 Rams are in second place in the NFC West, just two games behind the first-place Arizona Cardinals (4-2). The 49ers lost to the Giants on Sunday and fell to 2-5. Seattle is 1-5 after losing to Tampa Bay. The Cardinals were off Sunday and travel to Carolina this week, while the Rams have the Patriots (the second straight week against a team with a backup quarterback, and New England will be coming off a Monday night game).

The following week, Arizona will be in St. Louis for the first of the Rams' five remaining division games, three of which are at home. The current combined record of the Rams' final 10 opponents, prior to the Patriots' game Monday against Denver, was 29-33. Only New England (3-2), Arizona (4-2), Chicago (4-2) and Atlanta (4-2) had winning records.

Asked where this new winning attitude might take the Rams, guard Richie Incognito said, "We're going to take it to New England next week. That's the way we have to look at it. One game at a time. We're not in a position to look beyond that. But we have a lot of division opponents to play."

Said coach Jim Haslett of winning two in a row: "We're 2-4. Hopefully, we can get back in the division race. But I know our guys will be up for the game in New England. That's a three-time Super Bowl champ and a great challenge on the road."

In the two-game winning streak over NFC East teams Washington and Dallas, the Rams have shown resilience, falling behind 7-0 early in the first quarter in both games but fighting back.

Like a mantra, Haslett has talked about responding to adversity because bad things will happen in games. He has talked about playing with confidence and swagger. To listen to Rams players talk after Sunday's game, almost like programmed robots, many mentioned swagger.

It's obvious this team believes in Haslett. But Haslett credits the players, as any good coach will do.

Asked about the turnaround, Haslett said, "I think it is the will of the players more than anything. You have guys out there playing hard; if you have been to the practices, you see that they are practicing with a little purpose. I think anytime you get a win in Washington, you will have a little renewed confidence."

So, don't credit me, Haslett said, heaping praise on the players: "I have nothing to do with it. They got it in their mind to turn this around. It has nothing to do with the head coach."

Defensive coordinator Rick Venturi isn't so sure. "'Has' is a guy that knows how to win," Venturi said. "He has a presence with players. The players have bought in."

Venturi mentioned he told the players they were "lucky." Why lucky? "Because (after the firing of Scott Linehan), you got a proven coach, not someone to mop it up." Venturi should know; he has been an interim coach twice in his NFL career.

When asked whether it's the coach or the players, Incognito said, "It's half and half. It's just an attitude. Football is about attitude. We've got an attitude going now. We have to make plays, but he was a player and he knows our emotions. He knows how to get to us.

"We're playing with a winning attitude. Before, when something bad happened, it was like the air was taken out of our sails. Now, we battle."

Concluded Haslett, when asked about the many examples in the last two games of the team making a big play after having something bad happen, "That's what I've been saying. Turn bad into good. When something bad happens, someone has to step up and make it good. ... We're not going to win them all, but we're going to try."

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The most disconcerting development from the game was the quad injury suffered by RB Steven Jackson in the fourth quarter. Jackson rushed 25 times for 160 yards and scored three touchdowns, one a 56-yard gallop.

Appearing on Sirius NFL Radio, QB Marc Bulger said, "He was in quite a deal of pain in the locker room after the game, so I'd expect him to be out a couple of weeks. We'll see though."

However, Jackson said, "It is just a little bruise. We are going to do some more tests and have an MRI in the morning just to make sure. It is just a little tight, but I am able to walk and move it, so that is a good sign, they said."

On Monday, coach Jim Haslett said an MRI showed the injury was just a slight strain and that Jackson should be able to play against New England although he will be limited in practice.

Asked if he believes Jackson can have a full workload Sunday, Haslett said, "I would think so based on what I hear, but I will see how he feels Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday."

Jackson now has 508 rushing yards and 259 receiving yards in six games. For 16 games, the rushing yards project to 1,355 yards and the combined yards from scrimmage project to 2,045.

In some ways, the timing isn't bad because RB Antonio Pittman will return to practice on a full-time basis after missing three games because of a leg injury.

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Last week, Haslett made a point of talking about Bulger asserting his leadership on the team. He did it again Sunday, when asked about the play of Bulger, who completed 14 of 19 passes for 173 yards and one touchdown. His passer rating was 119.0.

Said Haslett, "I think Marc has really stepped up his game. More off the field than on the field, in the little areas that you don't see. He is kind of taking over the team, being the leader on offense. He is the guy that talks to the team on Saturday; he is kind of in command. If you think about when Marc took over, he came in and had Marshall Faulk, the two receivers (Torry Holt and Isaac Bruce) and a line that was together for five years and he was the young player.

"Now the roles are reversed, now he is the older guy and he has a bunch of younger guys, the line hasn't been together that long, young running backs. He has taken control of this football team, and I think he is doing a nice job."

When asked if he encouraged Bulger to take charge, Haslett said, "I encourage all the guys. That's my job."

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OG Richie Incognito said he has filed an appeal with the league over the $35,000 in fines he received last week, although he did say, "I understand fully what they're doing. They are trying to protect the integrity of the game."


PASSING OFFENSE: C-plus -- Rookie WR Donnie Avery is starting, and his presence is resulting in big plays and opening things up for WR Torry Holt. Avery had a 43-yard play that set up the winning field goal against Washington a week ago, and he had a 42-yard touchdown against Dallas. Holt, who entered the Dallas game averaging just 10.5 yards per catch, averaged 17.0 on three receptions against the Cowboys. And he was consistent with gains of 12, 19 and 20. QB Marc Bulger had a passer rating of 119.0, but he was sacked five times. Bulger overthrew a wide-open Avery on what would have been a 92-yard touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- RB Steven Jackson ran hard and had a season-high 160 yards on 25 attempts. He also scored three touchdowns, one coming on a 56-yard run. Even Travis Minor got in the act with a 13-yard run.

PASS DEFENSE: A -- Dallas QB Brad Johnson had a passer rating of 45.5 and was intercepted three times by the suddenly opportunistic Rams defense. The Rams got to Johnson for three sacks, including two on successive plays in the third quarter. Ron Bartell continues his growth as a cover corner, and the defense got a lift from the return of CB Fakhir Brown. Cowboys WR Terrell Owens had two catches for 31 yards, Patrick Crayton had three for 30 yards and Roy Williams was shut out. TE Jason Witten had six receptions, but four came in the second half and he totaled just 44 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- RB Marion Barber's 35-yard run keyed a first-quarter drive that gave the Cowboys an early 7-0 lead. But he did little after that. In that drive, Barber had seven carries for 45 yards, but only 10 yards on the six attempts aside from the long run. He added 55 yards on 11 attempts the rest of the afternoon, but 18 came on a fourth-quarter run when the game was essentially over.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Another excellent effort, highlighted by PK Josh Brown's two field goals and six of seven kickoffs that reached the end zone, with two for touchbacks. The only glitch was an out-of-bounds kick at the end of the first half after he had made a 52-yard field goal. P Donnie Jones had another good day with an average of more than 50 yards (50.7 on three punts) and a net of 37.0. Dante Hall had a 32-yard kickoff return. S Todd Johnson had three special teams tackles.

COACHING: A -- Whatever buttons coach Jim Haslett is pushing, it's working. Prior to the game, with things a bit quiet in the locker room, Haslett went into a short tirade with some pointed words about "America's Team." Said QB Marc Bulger, "It was short and sweet. But it was full of explicit words." Mostly, it served to loosen up the team and had them laughing. The smiles continued after the game, as the Rams moved into second place in their division.


The 49ers fired coach Mike Nolan on Monday, following the club's fourth consecutive loss, and replaced him with assistant head coach/defense Mike Singletary on an interim basis.

Said general manager Scot McCloughan in a statement, "This decision was difficult because Mike has been both a friend and valued coach of our team. I have a great deal of respect for Mike and his family. But my first obligation is always to do what is in the best interest of our fans and the entire 49ers organization. It is for this reason that we've made the decision to give the head coaching role to Mike Singletary.

"I am confident that Mike Singletary's leadership ability along with his experience as both a Hall of Fame player and coach gives him the ability to turn our season around."

Nolan compiled an 18-37 record in nearly 31/2 seasons as 49ers coach. Singletary was Nolan's first hire in January 2005 after accepting the job. Nolan and Singletary worked together on the staff of the Baltimore Ravens.

Nolan was hired 37 years to the day after his father, the late Dick Nolan, became 49ers head coach. Dick Nolan led the 49ers to their first three division titles from 1970-72. Dick Nolan was 54-53 in eight seasons with the 49ers.

Mike Nolan's tenure with the 49ers was marked by a lack of continuity on offense. He had a different offensive coordinator every season. Mike McCarthy and Norv Turner took head coaching positions. Jim Hostler was fired after one season. Nolan hired Mike Martz in January in hopes of turning around the team's stagnant offense.

Singletary interviewed for four NFL head-coaching jobs in the past three seasons. He did not get an interview this past offseason. He was also a leading candidate for the head-coaching job at Baylor, his alma mater. Singletary removed his name from contention after interviewing for the job.

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Offensive coordinator Mike Martz has been effusive in his praise of 49ers quarterback J.T. O'Sullivan.

The first-time starter is Martz's pet project, and a player who can seemingly do no wrong. Martz last week described O'Sullivan's turnovers as "coaching issues," taking blame for not having the time to fully prepare O'Sullivan.

But O'Sullivan continues to make costly mistakes for the 49ers, who lost for the fourth consecutive time on Sunday. O'Sullivan threw two interceptions and fumbled four times - losing one with another resulting in a safety.

Coach Mike Nolan, who said definitively a week earlier that O'Sullivan was the team's starting quarterback, was a little less assertive in his support for O'Sullivan on Sunday, but that was before Nolan was fired.

For now, O'Sullivan will remain as the starter, but it remains to be seen what Singletary will think. Martz is still firmly in O'Sullivan's corner. After all, Martz does not have the same confidence in backup Shaun Hill, who went from being a candidate for the starting job at Martz's arrival to the No. 3 quarterback in training camp.

Hill fell out of Martz's favor early in camp, as O'Sullivan entered the quarterback competition against Alex Smith. When Smith was lost for the season with a fracture of a small bone in his throwing shoulder, Hill was elevated into the backup role.

Veteran Jamie Martin is currently the team's No. 3 quarterback, and it's not a given that Martz would prefer Hill over Martin, who spent several seasons in Martz's system with the St. Louis Rams.

O'Sullivan takes all of the first-team snaps during practice, as Hill and Martin split up the duties running the opposing offense for the scout team.

The 49ers face a critical game Sunday against the Seattle Seahawks, a team against whom O'Sullivan threw for 321 yards in a Week 2 overtime victory.

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The 49ers became the first team in NFL history to return blocked field goals for scores in consecutive games. Manny Lawson blocked a field goal in the 49ers' game Sunday against the New York Giants, and teammate Nate Clements returned it 74 yards for a touchdown.

Lawson credited teammate Tully Banta-Cain for giving him the tip that he used to block the field goal.

"He was the nose guard (on the field goal) before me," Lawson said. "He told me that the guards were firing out."

Therefore, Lawson was able to hurdle the guards and got several steps into the backfield to block John Carney's kick with his facemask.

Last week, Donald Strickland returned Ray McDonald's blocked field goal 54 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the first half against the Philadelphia Eagles. Since 1970, the 49ers have returned only five blocked field goals for scores.

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Lawson hopes his incredibly athletic move to block a field goal put to rest any questions about whether his knee has fully recovered from ACL surgery of 13 months ago.

Because the 49ers have used him primarily as a first-down defender this season, many believed it was because the coaching staff was not convinced Lawson was healthy. On Sunday, he saw his most extensive action of the season on defense, recording a season-high four tackles.

"My knee hasn't bothered me since I had the injury," Lawson said. "My knee is fine."

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In what turned out to be his final game as coach of the 49ers, Mike Nolan had his reasons for not spending one of his three remaining timeouts late in the first half to prevent an 18-second runoff, but his explanation did not exactly clear things up.

Running back Frank Gore was called for a false start with 46 seconds remaining and the 49ers with the ball at the Giants' 47.

With the penalty, there was a mandatory 10-second clock runoff, which could have been avoided if the 49ers had used a timeout. Then, the officials started the clock when the ball was ready for play. As a result, the 49ers lost 18 seconds with their refusal to spend a timeout. Their next snap took place with 28 seconds remaining.

Nolan's explanation was a bit fuzzy.

"I thought we had time for about six plays going into the end," Nolan said. "And that play takes about 16 seconds and the clock was already stopped. So I figured that play right there was a 10-second maximum with the runoff because I had timeouts. So I figured by the time the half was over, I basically saved six seconds."

The 49ers got to the Giants' 19-yard line, but J.T. O'Sullivan forced a pass into the end zone, where it was intercepted with 15 seconds remaining in the half.


PASSING OFFENSE: F -- J.T. O'Sullivan put up 256 yards passing, but the negative plays far outweighed the team's good plays. O'Sullivan threw two costly interceptions in the fourth quarter. He was also sacked six times, and fumbled three times while getting sacked. One of his fumbles resulted in a safety when Josh Morgan kicked the ball out of the end zone rather than take the chance of the Giants falling on the ball for a touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The 49ers believe they have one of the top running games in the league, but they could not get anything going against the Giants. Running back Frank Gore, the team's top offensive performer, carried for just 11 yards on 11 carries. O'Sullivan and Gore even botched a handoff, which resulted in a turnover. O'Sullivan was the team's top ground gainer with 27 yards on four rushing attempts. The 49ers managed only one first down rushing.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- The 49ers did a good job of holding quarterback Eli Manning in check despite getting little pressure on him with their pass rush. The 49ers, however, did bat down four passes at the line of scrimmage. Manning threw for just 161 yards. Cornerback Nate Clements was called for a 31-yard pass-interference penalty, but he also made many plays in his battle with Plaxico Burress. Clements held Burress to three catches for 24 yards.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The 49ers placed a lot of emphasis on slowing down the Giants running game, and they succeeded, for the most part. Brandon Jacobs had 69 yards on 17 carries, though he did have two touchdown runs. As a unit, the Giants rushed for a season-low of 112 yards on 32 carries for a 3.5 average. Linebacker Patrick Willis had a good day against the run, as did nose tackle Aubrayo Franklin and linebacker Takeo Spikes. Cornerbacks Clements and Walt Harris also did a strong job in run support.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A-minus -- Manny Lawson and Clements supplied the highlights of the game when Lawson blocked a third-quarter field goal attempt and Clements returned 74 yards for a touchdown. It was the 49ers' second blocked FG for a touchdown in two weeks. Andy Lee averaged 43.6 yards on five punts for a respectable net average of 38.0 yards. The 49ers' coverage units allowed the Giants good field position, as their average starting point n five kickoffs was the 34-yard line.

COACHING: C-minus -- The game plans appeared solid. The 49ers' defense did a good job against the league's top-ranked offense. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky made good adjustments after some injuries in the secondary. Although Mike Martz could not find any answers to get the run game going, he dialed up three pass plays that could have gone for huge yardage. However, Vernon Davis and Josh Morgan dropped perfectly thrown deep passes, and O'Sullivan misfired on a deep ball to a wide-open Isaac Bruce. Coach Mike Nolan had a clock-management gaffe at the end of the first half that forced the offense to rush when it did not have to. The team did not look discipline, as it committed a season-high 13 penalties for 134 yards.


The Seattle Seahawks still don't know if they will have quarterback Matt Hasselbeck available for their game against the San Francisco 49ers, which is troubling because without him they have thrown for a combined 156 yards in two weeks.

Hasselbeck is suffering from a bulging disk in his back that is pinching a nerve that is causing weakness in a knee he hyperextended against the New York Giants three weeks ago.

Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said Hasselbeck must pass a battery of tests on Tuesday to determine the strength in his leg to see if he can play.

"The last medical report is that he's feeling better each day," Holmgren said. "But they have this measuring stick though, before they will allow him to play, that's my understanding. And until he reaches that, then he probably won't play."

Surprisingly, Holmgren was non-committal about who would start if Hasselbeck is unable to go.

Charlie Frye was only 12 for 23 for 83 yards two weeks ago, and Seneca Wallace was 12 for 23 for 73 yards in a 20-10 loss to Tampa Bay on Sunday.

Wallace is considered the backup, but he still is recovering from a calf strain that at least in part limited his sharpness on Sunday, his first start since the 2006 season.

Neither Holmgren nor Wallace said the calf limited his mobility, but he was under constant pressure and never was able to get into a rhythm.

"We said last week there was a possibility (Hasselbeck) will play against San Francisco and I will say that - there's a possibility he will play this week," Holmgren said.

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LB Leroy Hill will not be fined for his hit on WR Ike Hilliard that sent Hilliard to the hospital and gave teammate Lofa Tatupu a concussion as well. The NFL said that Hilliard had made the reception and established himself as a runner, so Hill's tackle was not helmet-to-helmet. Therefore he will not be fined or suspended.

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The fumbled exchange between QB Seneca Wallace and C Chris Spencer occurred because Wallace was trying to audible into a new protection scheme and Spencer could not hear him over the crowd noise. Spencer snapped the ball early and Wallace lost control of it.

"When it rains it pours," Spencer said. "We just have to find a way to get it to stop raining. We need some sunny days around here."


PASSING OFFENSE: F -- The offensive line gave quarterback Seneca Wallace very little time in the pocket, and when he was able to get off his passes he was not very crisp. He passed for only 73 yards one week after Charlie Frye threw for 83. He had an 8.3 passer rating at halftime. He did not complete a pass to one of his starting wideouts until the third quarter.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C-minus -- Against one of the better run defenses in the league, the Seahawks managed 103 yards - though a great deal of that was because Maurice Morris broke off a 45-yard run the second half. T.J. Duckett actually had a 20-yard run that was called back for holding on Mike Wahle. The Seahawks only ran the ball 16 times because they only had the ball for just 18 minutes of the game.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- With almost no pass rush, Tampa Bay quarterback Jeff Garcia was able to pick apart the secondary, throwing for 310 yards and a TD on 27 for 36 passing. Antonio Bryant had 115 yards receiving. The secondary still has only one interception, and it was burned for yet another long play, the 47-yard touchdown Kelly Jennings relinquished to Bryant in the first quarter.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- Given that Tampa Bay ran the ball 38 times, the fact that it was held to less than 100 yards (a 2.6-yard average) was impressive. Rookie Red Bryant did a nice job stepping in filling a role behind Brandon Mebane.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- This was the lone bright spot for the Seahawks, with Josh Wilson breaking off kickoff returns of 61 and 46 yards. Wilson totaled 146 return yards. Rookie Justin Forsett did a nice job returning punts, including a 24-yarder. The one negative for special teams was that Olindo Mare missed his first field goal attempt of the season.

COACHING: F - The coaching staff once again did not have the Seahawks prepared to play on the East Coast. The Seahawks were unable to contend with Tampa Bay's pass rush or make successful adjustments at halftime.

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