NFC West News & Notes: 9/13/05

The bottom rung's on top after one week of regular season action in the NFC West, as the San Francisco 49ers were the only team to come away with a victory. The Seahawks, Rams and Cardinals reflect on less-than-stellar outings in this week's NFC West News & Notes.


The Seahawks did not reward QB Matt Hasselbeck with a $49.4 million contract so they could watch him throw three interceptions and lose a fumble in the season opener. "He is pushing himself to earn that dough," coach Mike Holmgren said days before Seattle's 26-14 loss to Jacksonville in the opener. "He has the right mental framework to do that.

"I'm very pleased with how he's playing -- very, very pleased."

Holmgren wasn't so pleased Sunday. Hasselbeck's interception with 6:29 remaining was particularly egregious.

The quarterback said he was trying to throw away the ball. But with a defender applying pressure, Hasselbeck didn't get enough on the pass. Instead of throwing the ball out of bounds, Hasselbeck lofted a pass right into the grasp of Jaguars LB Daryl Smith.

The Seahawks were trailing by a 20-14 count at the time. They were facing first-and-10 from their own 15. They expected Hasselbeck to lead them downfield for the go-ahead touchdown. Afterward, Holmgren was not particularly concerned.

"The quarterback's success is so much tied in with how the offensive line blocks, who catches the ball, who does what they are supposed to do," Holmgren said. "I know this: We have a lot of confidence in Matt and his ability to get the job done, and his teammates do, too.

"(Sunday) didn't work the way we would like it to, but he'll be OK."

Hasselbeck should benefit from back-to-back home games. Atlanta visits Qwest Field in Week 2.

And while Hasselbeck took a pounding against the Jaguars, he was not expected to miss any action. "He got a little beat up in there," Holmgren said. "They did a nice job rushing the passer; their defensive front is pretty strong, he took his hits, but I think he's OK."


-- The Seahawks' slowest receiver could not have been more open on his 33-yard TD catch in the first half. WR Joe Jurevicius made the Jaguars forget about him. "We were in a triple set and the backside safety cheated over and Joe was wide open and kept running," QB Matt Hasselbeck said. "I felt the safety move over and got it to Joe. They do that in coverages sometimes and it works. Other times, that will happen." Jurevicius finished with three catches for 64 yards in his first game with Seattle. "I've never been a guy caught up in numbers," Jurevicius said. "If you call my number and you throw me a ball, chances are I'm going to make a play."

-- Fumbling away the opening kickoff was no way to start a season opener in a hostile environment. The Seahawks followed that opening miscue with four more turnovers. The result was a disjointed performance in which RB Shaun Alexander carried only 14 times. "Jacksonville took control of the whole game and made us do what they wanted us to do," Alexander said. "We know we have a great offense. Our thing is controlling the game and doing what we want to do. I think our defense actually played well enough for us to win, and our offense didn't help them out at all. We turned it over way too much."

-- The Seahawks protected their players from the taxing Jacksonville sun by holding makeshift mesh canopies over the team's benches. The Jaguars were not happy with the tactic and voiced their concerns to the league office. Seattle officials said they had been given the go-ahead to use the canopies. Coach Mike Holmgren said his players held up well under the humidity and 87-degree heat. "I don't think they wore down," he said. "I don't think we executed very well. I thought we didn't protect the passer very well. We had a couple of mental breakdowns on one of the fumbles in the two minute drill. We got a little careless. Physically, I thought the guys held up pretty well."

-- Defensive coordinator Ray Rhodes was back in the office Monday after dizzy spells forced him to miss the previous week. The plan was for Rhodes to work an abbreviated schedule -- perhaps eight hours a day -- and see how he responds. The team was not sure yet whether Rhodes would be on the field for practice Wednesday. "He is going to be watching film and in the planning stages in meetings," coach Mike Holmgren said. "We will do what is right for him, certainly, and right now (doctors) are taking more of a conservative approach."


-- QB Matt Hasselbeck said he was trying to throw away the ball on two of his three interceptions Sunday. The explanation did not change the fact that Hasselbeck was too careless with the ball. The QB also lost a fumble as Seattle committed five turnovers.

-- RB Shaun Alexander rushed for only six yards in the second half Sunday. Part of the problem was that Jacksonville held the ball for 11:55 of the third quarter. Alexander averaged better than five yards a carry on the day, but he was not much of a factor. "He's not a real fast runner, so you know he's not trying to get to the edge," Jaguars DT John Henderson said. "He's looking for that hole and he's real patient. That was our key and we were trying to go fast and he was just cutting it back on us. We just had to slow down and get behind him a little bit."

-- CB Andre Dyson suffered from cramping Sunday and had to leave the game for stretches.

-- SS Michael Boulware suffered from cramping Sunday and had to leave the game for stretches.

-- CB Marcus Trufant was in perfect position to defend the Jaguars' 7-yard TD pass to WR Jimmy Smith. Trufant had a chance to make a play on the ball, but Smith made the better play, controlling the ball with one hand. Trufant made a couple of well-timed pass breakups, but the team's pass defense was spotty at best.

-- TE Itula Mili might need surgery after suffering from an intestinal blockage. A decision had not been made as of Monday. The team is not sure whether Mili will be available this week.

-- LT Wayne Hunter might return from a knee injury this week.

-- WR D.J. Hackett might return from a knee injury late in the week. Next week might be the safer bet.



QB Matt Hasselbeck tossed three interceptions and lost a fumble. Hasselbeck said he was trying to throw away the ball on two of his picks. Either way, he was responsible. Late in the game, WR Darrell Jackson let a potential TD pass sail past him without so much as reaching for the ball. He declined comment afterward. The offensive line struggled in pass protection. RT Sean Locklear looks like a keeper, but the Jaguars beat him three times for hits and/or pressures on Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck was mostly effective when he had time, but that wasn't nearly often enough. RB Shaun Alexander appeared more willing in blitz pickup, counter to his reputation.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The ground game stalled early, gained momentum and then disappeared from the game plan after Seattle fell behind. The highlight was a 36-yard run by Alexander that sustained the go-ahead TD drive late in the first half. Jackson shielded Jaguars SS Donovin Darius all the way up the right sideline. Alexander averaged better than 5 yards a carry, but he carried only 14 times. That's not enough.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The Seahawks' secondary was supposed to be a team strength. Maybe it will become one, but it wasn't on Sunday. Seattle watched 36-year-old WR Jimmy Smith catch seven passes for 130 yards and two TDs. A blown coverage allowed Smith to run uncovered down the middle for a 30-yard score. CB Marcus Trufant was in position to challenge Smith on a 7-yard score, but Smith made a truly outstanding play on the ball.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- MLB Lofa Tatupu made a couple of plays behind the line of scrimmage. DT Chuck Darby also knifed through to knock down RB Fred Taylor for a loss. Taylor's longest run was a 9-yarder. Seattle's defensive front did get knocked off the ball early in the game, but the Jaguars still averaged only 3.8 yards a carry (even with an early 25-yarder by WR Matt   Jones on a misdirection play).

SPECIAL TEAMS: D -- RB Josh Scobey fumbled on the opening kickoff, leading to an early FG for the Jaguars. The play set a negative tone for the Seahawks. Also, field position was a problem for Seattle throughout the game. The Jaguars' punter averaged better than 42 net yards per punt, a hugely revealing figure. A holding penalty during a punt return pinned Seattle at its own 3.

Beating the Jaguars through the air seemed to be the plan. Coach Mike Holmgren never could have suspected that Hasselbeck would toss three interceptions. That wasn't a coaching problem. Seattle remains a team that isn't particularly inventive offensively. Holmgren calls the same plays and expects his guys to execute them. A little more imagination probably wouldn't hurt. The defense functioned well despite the absence of coordinator Ray Rhodes, who remained in Seattle after experiencing dizziness last week.


This team needs to find a way to build some semblance of a running game, or it's going to be a very long season. The Cardinals rushed for only 31 yards last week against the Giants, led by quarterback Kurt Warner's 11 yards.

The problem is obvious: the offensive line isn't cutting it. Center Shawn Lynch, picked up shortly before the season started, was manhandled in his first NFL game. The rest of the line, including some veterans, wasn't much better. Right tackle Oliver Ross had an embarrassing day against Giants end Michael Strahan, who pushed him back into Warner one time. Left tackle Leonard Davis was beaten badly on one goal line play, and rookie right guard Elton Brown had a terrible NFL debut.

The Cardinals' options are few, because the backups are even worse. For now, coach Dennis Green doesn't seem overly concerned and has expressed confidence that the team will be able to improve.

But it's hard to see how, unless there is divine intervention.


--Outside linebacker Karlos Dansby played perhaps his best NFL game on a day when the Cardinals were at their worst. Dansby had two interceptions, returning one for a touchdown, and a sack. A former receiver in high school and for one day at Auburn, Dansby called upon those skills Sunday. "I was a receiver (in high school), so it was just natural."

--Receiver Larry Fitzgerald caught 13 passes for 155 yards, both career highs, and scored a touchdown. "It was just the design of the defense," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "They were doing certain things certain ways, and it's kind of the nature of the beast. One guy in this offense has a lot of success. It can be somebody completely different the next game. Larry did a great job running his routes and making plays."
Hodgins backup, Obafemi Ayanbadejo, is a better runner and receiver, but he's doesn't have Hodgins' blocking skills.

--MLB James Darling has a knee injury, the severity of which is unknown. Darling is starting because Gerald Hayes is out for several more weeks with a knee injury. Darling's backup is rookie Lance Mitchell. Just a few weeks ago, coach Dennis Green said Mitchell was not ready to play.

--RB J.J. Arrington gained just five yards on eight carries. He isn't the best fit for this offense, because he's a smaller speed back that needs some space to be effective. His backup, Marcel Shipp, is more physical and can gain a few yards out most plays.


-- The extent of middle linebacker James Darling's knee injury is still unknown. If he's out, it's likely that Orlando Huff will move from the weak outside linebacker to the middle. Karlos Dansby could move to the weak side, with rookie Darryl Blackstock taking over the strong side.

-- The loss of fullback of James Hodgins to a torn anterior cruciate ligament damages a running game that's already hurting. Hodgins was a solid lead blocker, a skill none of the other fullbacks have. It could mean more time for tight end John Bronson, a rookie who could play an h-back role.

-- Receiver Anquan Boldin caught only four passes, seven fewer than Larry Fitzgerald. QB Kurt Warner said that was because of the Giants' defensive scheme, but often it didn't even appear he looked Boldin's way.

-- CB David Macklin continues to get picked on by big receivers. Plaxico Burress caught a long pass over him. Macklin is tough and competitive but he doesn't have great athletic skills.

-- Arrington likely will remain the starter, but don't be surprised if Marcel Shipp receives almost as many carries. Arrington didn't have much room to run last week, and Shipp is more physical. That might be a better fit behind a struggling offensive line.



QB Kurt Warner was fairly sharp but not many of his throws went downfield. Arizona threw the ball 56 times for 316 yards.

It was horrendous. Warner led all runners with 11 yards, and the team totaled only 31. Runners were often met in the backfield by defenders.

The Cardinals intercepted Eli Manning twice and gave up just 172 yards. The rush was decent.

The Giants gashed them early when the Cardinals experimented with three and five linemen schemes. When the Cardinals went back to their base defense, they were better against the run.

The Cardinals gave up touchdowns on a kick return and a punt return. That turned the game around for the Giants.

The club burned three timeouts in the second half, two because it couldn't get the plays into Warner. And coach Dennis Green went for a two-point conversion in the third quarter, a questionable decision at best.


There is no surprise anymore about the hot topics that affect the Rams after a disappointing loss. If someone didn't watch the game and said it was probably red-zone failures and special teams issues, they would be correct. The bright spot in Sunday's 28-25 loss to the 49ers was that the defense allowed only 217 yards.

However, problems that victimized the Rams last season, especially on the road, and that had supposedly been dealt with in the off-season, were glaring once again; as the special teams struggled, quarterback Marc Bulger was sacked seven times, and the Rams managed just four field goals in their first four trips to the red zone.

"It goes to show that the best team doesn't always win," wide receiver Torry Holt said. "I think that we were the better team at times today, and the stats showed that we were the better team."

In this case, the stats lied. The Rams out-gained the 49ers, 405-217, had 26 first downs to San Francisco's 12 and held the ball for 39:23. However, the 49ers scored a touchdown on a punt return, recovered a surprise onside kick and in their new 3-4 defensive alignment, defensive end Bryant Young had three sacks and linebacker Julian Peterson 2.5. Three of the 49ers' seven sacks were in the red zone.

Also on special teams, the Rams started the first possession of the season from the 1-yard line when kickoff returner Chris Johnson stepped out of bounds, and committed a defensive holding penalty on a missed extra point. Rookie punter Reggie Hodges averaged just 33 yards on four punts with a long of 44.

Said special teams coach Bob Ligashesky, who is the fourth special teams coach in Mike Martz's six seasons, "We're all in this together. We are going to go back and watch the tape together and get this right together. We're in this together... to the end."

"That's not a reflection on Coach 'Lig.' He's been busting his tail, doing a great job," said linebacker Trev Faulk. "Basically, it comes down to... we've got to make plays. It's very, very disappointing, very, very frustrating. Because... you take away that, we win the ball game."

Said safety Mike Furrey, who was moved from receiver to defensive back to be active in games for special teams, "We've just got to eliminate the big returns. It was just a bad break. That's all you can say. We can't do anything about it right now, but we'll take care of it in the future." Furrey was the first player down the field on Otis Amey's touchdown, but had a bad angle and failed to stop or slow him down.

For now, Martz refused to place the onus on Ligashesky.

"Bob is hoarse from yelling at these guys to stay in their lanes and take on the guy with the proper shoulder," Martz said. "We go through this every day in practice. I watch it, and I hear it. This isn't a reflection on him, this is a lack of discipline by some of our young players. We need to get that squared away. If I need to get involved with it and make it an issue with these guys... whatever it takes to get it done."

Still, the Rams rallied from a 28-9 deficit to pull within 28-25 and were at the 49ers' 33-yard line with 59 seconds to play. But on a 1st-and-5 play, quarterback Marc Bulger threw behind wide receiver Isaac Bruce and the pass was intercepted by Michael Adams.

"That interception was a play I wish I could take back," Martz said. "It's just a bad play call that cost us the game. That's my responsibility. It's hard to look those guys in the eye in the locker room, knowing full well that I could make a better call there. I put the quarterback and receiver in a tough jam. I feel sick."

Martz also fell on the sword for the red-zone woes. On 15 plays in the four possessions that ended with a field goal, the Rams totaled minus-5 yards.

"That's coaching," Martz said. "That's just poor play selection on my part. Pure and simple. You get down there and don't score touchdowns. The old coach didn't do a good job in this one."


--The 49ers sacked QB Marc Bulger seven times, but the Rams did run 89 plays, of which 65 were pass plays. Three of the sacks occurred in the red-zone drives that ended with field goals. "They had a good plan," Bulger said. "They dropped four guys back there a lot and just weren't going to give up the big play. They were just going to try to keep the ball in front of them."

Noting how the Rams fell behind, tackle Orlando Pace said, "When you get down, it's tough, because they know you're going to pass. I think everybody in the stadium understands you're going to pass."
There's definitely enough things to fix; that's not an issue," guard Adam Timmerman said. "But I think for as many times as we passed the ball and as many plays as we had, it's probably not that out of this world."

--Rex Tucker made his regular-season debut at right tackle and struggled, although the number of pass plays contributed to the problems. Matt Willig replaced Tucker in the fourth quarter because of a leg injury.

"I'm really not going to talk about it till I find out exactly what it is," Tucker said of the injury. I just don't know what to say about it."

As for his play, Tucker said, "As far as I'm concerned, I didn't play well enough for us to win this game. That's the way it is. I've got to get better - period."



QB Marc Bulger set a franchise record with 56 pass attempts and threw for 362 yards, but big plays were a rarity, and Bulger misfired on his final pass of the game; it was intercepted and ended the team's final scoring threat. Torry Holt (10), Shaun McDonald and Kevin Curtis (7 each) combined for 24 receptions, but Bulger was 3-for-8 for 21 yards in the four red-zone possessions that ended with field goals. Bulger was also sacked seven times.

RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- Steven Jackson had 19 attempts, but only six in the second half as the Rams fell behind. But he had to fight for every yard, and ended up with just 60 yards for the game. Marshall Faulk had just three rushes in the game for 12 yards. San Francisco's active linebackers made running difficult.

49ers QB Tim Rattay only passed 16 times, but he completed 11 for 165 yards and two touchdowns, including a 35-yard score to Brandon Lloyd. Four of his completions were to the running backs.

The Rams kept the big play from happening, and shut down the 49ers' rushing attack, except for a Kevin Barlow 9-yard touchdown run. The 49ers ran for just 34 yards on 21 attempts.

SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- It's usually hard to give a failing grade because of the Jeff Wilkins factor, but it's deserved here. Wilkins did kick four field goals and had one touchback on a kickoff return, but the special teams once again had a negative impact on the game. Penalties and big plays gave the 49ers momentum, and helped them build their big lead.

COACHING: C -- It was a questionable decision to put Chris Johnson on kickoff returns, when he had been with the team for only one week, and had never played in an NFL regular season game. Johnson stepped out of bounds at the 1-yard line on the opening kickoff, but even after that, he gained just 55 yards on three returns. Give the coaches credit for the team coming back, but they never should have been that far behind.


The 49ers were coming off a 2-14 season, and then they experienced the death of a teammate in the exhibition season. Coach Mike Nolan said his team has responded well to the adversity.

Now, the 49ers have to deal with something else.

"We're coming together all the time as a football team," Nolan said. "Everything we faced up to this point was typically adversity. All of a sudden we face success, so we have a new challenge this week that's a little different. I'm looking forward to that." The 49ers take their 1-0 record to face the reigning NFC champion Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. The 49ers pulled out an exciting 28-25 victory over the Rams in the season opener Sunday at Monster Park. With a victory in their first game of the season, the 49ers are halfway to their entire win mark from last year.

"This will be a test of maturity because usually, immature people don't respond well to success," Nolan said. "They get full of themselves -- that's not going to happen."

The 49ers won their season opener despite getting dominated on the stat sheet. The Rams had approximate 2-1 edges on the 49ers in total offensive plays, yards gained and time of possession. Yet the 49ers held the Rams to four field goals on their five trips inside the red zone.

Nolan said the thing that he liked best about Sunday's game against the Rams was that both teams played similarly.

"What stuck out in my mind it was the fact both teams made mistakes in the ball game, and we were the winner," Nolan said. "And both teams made a lot of good plays in the game, and we were the winner. Usually the supposedly better team is the winner. We won in a game that both teams played that kind of game. That says a lot about our guys."


-- The night before his coaching debut, 49ers coach Mike Nolan received a gift from his older brother, Richard Jr. At the team hotel, Mike Nolan's brother handed him the 1956 NFL Championship ring his father earned as a player. Dick Nolan, who would go onto coach the 49ers, won the ring as a result of the Giants' 47-7 victory over the Chicago Bears in the title game.

"When my brother moved out of the house, my dad gave it to him," Mike Nolan said. "Back then (in the early 1970s) the 49ers were playing in NFC Championship games versus the Cowboys, and dad gave my brother that ring because he thought he was going to win a Super Bowl ring (as a coach).

"My dad never got his Super Bowl ring. My brother's held this ring for all these years. Last night he said, 'Hey, I have something for you that you might enjoy for the game tomorrow.'"

The gift had a lot of meaning for Mike Nolan. His father was unable to attend Sunday's game. He was diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease in January around the time his son was named head coach of the 49ers. Dick and Mike Nolan are the first father-son combination to coach the same NFL team on a permanent basis. Team owner John York handed Nolan the game ball after the 49ers' upset victory over the Rams.

--Niners nickel back Mike Adams had a running dialogue with longtime Rams receiver Isaac Bruce during the game. Adams was on the field most of the game because of St. Louis' affinity for multi-receiver sets, and he generally had a rough game. But Adams made amends for an earlier mistake when he ripped a poorly thrown pass away from Bruce for an interception in the closing minute to seal the victory. Adams dropped an easy interception early in the fourth quarter that would likely have gone for a clinching touchdown.

"I was feeling bad, but I knew I couldn't feel too bad because there was so much time left in the game," Adams said. "I knew there was so much time left on the clock I'd get another opportunity." He also got the last word in his battle with Bruce.

"He kept saying that he didn't know me," Adams said. "My message is: I bet he knows me now."


--RB Frank Gore touched the ball six times in his debut. The rookie from the University of Miami (Fla.) carried four times for 17 yards and caught two passes for 21 yards. If starter Kevan Barlow continues to struggle, the 49ers might turn more to Gore.

--CB Ahmed Plummer, who missed the final 10 games last season with a bulging disc in his neck, led the 49ers with 12 tackles. He was a force in run support, coming up from his spot on the left side.

--CB Shawntae Spencer had a strong game in coverage, breaking up two passes. He made an outstanding play in the first quarter to swat a deep pass intended for Isaac Bruce at the goal line to prevent a touchdown.

--RT Kwame Harris struggled early against Rams DE Leonard Little. Harris gave up one sack and another pressure before the 49ers made an adjustment to give Harris some help with tight ends and a back chipping.

--C Jeremy Newberry made it through the game in pretty good shape, and coach Mike Nolan said he expects him to be available for Week 2 against the Eagles. Newberry has a knee condition that limited him to just one game last season.

--WR Johnnie Morton appears to be just fine the day after he sustained a concussion against the Rams. Coach Mike Nolan said he expects Morton to be available for Sunday's game against the Eagles.



Tim Rattay put together a solid performance, completing 11-of-16 passes for 165 yards and two touchdowns for a passer rating of 141.9. He was sacked just two times for minus-9 yards. WR Arnaz Battle even got into the act, completing a 24-yard pass to Brandon Lloyd on a gadget play. Lloyd also made a tremendous catch for a 35-yard TD in the second quarter to get the 49ers on the board.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- The 49ers fancy themselves as a power-running team, but there wasn't much power behind their running on Sunday. Kevan Barlow gained just 22 yards on 14 carries. He did manage a 9-yard TD run, but also had a fumble that helped the Rams get back into the game. The blocking wasn't great, as the team gained only 34 yards on 21 tries.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The 49ers' secondary played extremely well against the explosive Rams. Their unheralded secondary generally kept the ball in front of them, and even helped the pass rush with some coverage sacks. The 49ers recorded seven sacks, with Bryant Young and Julian Peterson combining for 5.5 of them. Marc Bulger had 362 yards passing, but Mike Adams came through with the interception in the final minute to clinch the game.

RUSH DEFENSE: B -- The 49ers had some troubles early, but managed to make the adjustments to shut down the Rams' run game. Steven Jackson had just 60 yards on 19 carries. CB Ahmed Plummer had a strong game in run support, while LBs Jeff Ulbrich, Peterson, Derek Smith and Jamie Winborn all played well.

SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- It was a big day for the 49ers' special teams, as they pinned the Rams at the 1-yard line on the opening kickoff, recovered an onside kick in the second quarter and received a 75-yard punt return for a touchdown by Otis Amey. Punter Andy Lee did not hit the ball particularly well, but he managed a very good 38.6 net average.

COACHING: A -- The 49ers' defense, run by defensive coordinator Billy Davis, was well-prepared for the Rams. Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy threw a lot of tricks at the Rams, and some of them worked. And Mike Nolan had a firm grasp on the pulse of his team. It was an impressive opener all the way around for the new 49ers' regime. Top Stories