NFC West News & Notes - 10/10/05

The Seahawks seperate themselves from the rest of the division by casting a big monkey aside...and the Rams, 49ers and Cardinals all drop a game in today's NFC West News & Notes.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks cleared a huge mental hurdle by beating the Rams in St. Louis for the first time since 1997. Now Seattle won't have to hear so much about not being able to beat its primary division rival. Any lingering doubts from four consecutive defeats to the Rams have been expunged from the team's collective psyche.

"It's great," running back Shaun Alexander said. "We're real excited about this game because we knew it was something that just had to be done if we were ever going to get the monkey off our back.

"We definitely felt like we were division champs (in 2004), but we knew we had to beat them to claim it to ourselves. They owned us last year, and we let a lot of balls bounce the wrong way last year. It's a new year and a new team, and we're excited."

Seattle's offense has shown additional maturity, leading the NFL with 11 touchdown drives of at least 80 yards. For once, the confidence on that side of the ball has found its way to other parts of the roster.

"I think the confidence is really in our defense," Alexander said. "We've always moved the ball on the Rams. We thought we were going to do the same thing, but it was our defense that really made big plays over and over again. As they start to really make plays, then we're like, 'OK, we can take this thing over.'"

Seattle has apparently shored up its third-down defense, which had allowed 13 of 18 conversions to Washington a week earlier. The Rams converted only three of 12, down from 11 of 17 when St. Louis overcame a 17-point, fourth-quarter deficit to win at Seattle last season. "I was here last year, so I know what happened in the past to us," defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs said. "I think last year at times when we played them, we not so much gave up, but there were times where we kind of gave in to them.

"This year, we know we have a good team, we know we have a defense and we're clicking on all cylinders. There are not many teams that can mess with us, and that is the kind of attitude we took."

REPLAY

The Seahawks overcame a bad start to claim a 37-31 victory over the Rams in the Edward Jones Dome. Shaun Alexander rushed for 119 yards and Seattle sealed the outcome by forcing a turnover on special teams in the final minutes.

The game started poorly for Seattle as the Rams returned the opening kickoff 99 yards for a touchdown. But Seattle stormed back to take a 14-7 lead as the steady play of Matt Hasselbeck allowed the Seahawks to move the ball almost at will. Hasselbeck was without his starting receivers, but he found a new friend in Joe Jurevicius, who caught nine passes for 137 yards and a touchdown.

Seattle's defense held the Rams to 3-of-12 on third-down conversions. On offense, the Seahawks went without a turnover for the third consecutive game.

PLAYER NOTES

--RT Sean Locklear played well in his matchup with Rams DE Leonard Little. He allowed a sack to DL Tyoka Jackson after Little left the game with a back injury, but overall, Locklear played well.

--SS Michael Boulware did not return from a back injury that caused him to lose feeling in his legs. His status for this week is not known.

--CB Andre Dyson pulled a hamstring Sunday. He could be sidelined indefinitely.

--RT Floyd Womack played in a reserve role against the Rams for the first time since suffering a triceps injury in the preseason. His day was cut short by a quadriceps injury, however. Womack could be out for a while.

--LB D.D. Lewis left the Rams game with a sprained ankle. The injury was not considered serious.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Dennis Green isn't likely to make a decision on his starting quarterback until Kurt Warner returns to practice. And that's probably not going to happen during this bye week. Josh McCown has made a strong case for the job in his two starts in Warner's absence.

McCown has passed for 780 yards and four touchdowns in those games. He was intercepted three times last week against Carolina, but none of them were caused by horrible decisions. "I think anytime you throw the ball for 300 yards, you're playing pretty decently," Green said. "I think that Josh has been able to find the receivers, and that's a big plus."

Green faces a critical decision in the coming weeks. Warner, suffering from a torn groin muscle, is hopeful of playing Oct. 23 against Tennessee, the week after the bye. That's hardly a given, however, and he has not practiced in two weeks. The offensive line is protecting the quarterback better, and it helps that McCown is more mobile than Warner.

"I am seeing things, seeing blitzes," McCown said. "That is something that I feel like we are getting better at as a team and as a front five. We are blocking a lot better in pass protection."

In the meantime, the Cardinals need to develop a running game, or it won't matter which quarterback Green picks. The club is averaging just 3.1 yards a carry.

"It hurts you," Green said. "You have to be able to run the ball a little bit and have something to go to."

REPLAY

The Cardinals blew a 20-10 lead in the fourth quarter to lose to Carolina, 24-20. The offense was explosive in the first half, recording six pass plays of more than 20 yards. But Carolina shut down receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald in the second half, daring the Cardinals to run. They couldn't. The running game was non-existent (72 yards on 27 carries), and the defense allowed the Panthers to score on a 94-yard drive.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Anquan Boldin and WR Larry Fitzgerald each had over 100 yards receiving Sunday. Boldin had 158 yards on 10 catches, and Fitzgerald had 136 yards on nine receptions. It's the first time two receivers from the same team have reached the 100-yard mark since 2001 when Tennessee's Kevin Dyson and Derrick Mason did it.

--K Neil Rackers has made all 18 of his field-goal attempts this season, extending his team record.

--The club desperately needs the week off, especially its cornerbacks. Of the five corners on the roster, only rookie Lamont Reid left the field health. CB Antrel Rolle likely is out for the year after undergoing knee surgery. The other starter, David Macklin, played only a handful of plays against Carolina because of a hamstring strain. CB Raymond Walls missed the Carolina game with muscle strain in the groin and hip area. CB Robert Tate was limited in the second half against Carolina with a concussion, and CB Eric Green left the game in the second quarter with a shoulder injury. It's hoped that Macklin, Walls, Tate and Green will be back for the Oct. 23 game against Tennessee. Tate signed two weeks ago and already has two interceptions.

--RT Fred Wakefield is playing better than anyone expected. Wakefield didn't yield a sack to Carolina's Julius Peppers. He was helped some by tight ends and running backs, but he often had to block Peppers one-on-one.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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After a distressing home loss to the Seahawks on Sunday, the Rams will have an extra day off to face the prospect of going against one of the league's best offenses on Monday night. They will travel to Indianapolis, and the Colts must be salivating as they await the arrival of this battered defense.

The Rams defense appeared improved after the first three games of the season, but it has been gashed the last two games against the Giants and Seahawks. The Rams tied for a league-low 15 takeaways last season, and they had seven after three games. However, they have come up empty the last two games, while allowing 889 yards and making wide receivers Plaxico Burress and Joe Jurevicius look like All-Pros. They combined for 17 receptions, 341 yards and three touchdowns against a defense that left wide-open spaces for receivers to make plays.

Asked if the problems can be fixed in time for the game against the Colts, defensive end Leonard Little said, "I hope so. If we don't fix it, we are in trouble."
When it was noted to Little that the Giants and Seahawks scored a total of 81 points, Little said, "We are not playing consistent defense. That's a big thing. We are up and down right now. We've got to get together and do the things we need to do, like studying and not messing up on certain plays like we did today."

Coach Mike Martz, who missed two days of practice last week and began antibiotic treatment for bacterial endocarditis last Friday, said his meddling in the defense after the loss to the Giants negatively affected the unit.

"I asked our defense to put in a new coverage, and I think they threw two touchdowns on that coverage, so that is my fault," he said. "I take full responsibility for that. I felt it would help us in the running game. (The lesson is you) shouldn't meddle in the defense as the head coach. There's the story for that line."

Martz is confident things will be back to normal now with his health, and believes his situation didn't help matters.

"I wasn't myself this week," he said. "The game plan wasn't clear for me. I probably should have let (offensive coordinator) Steve (Fairchild) call the game. That's just that part that's in me, you want to just bulldog it.

"I am just concerned that what has happened to me has affected this team, and that breaks my heart. The good news is that we will get better, and I will feel a lot better within the next few weeks. (But) this is coach Martz's loss. Put a big check on that one. I did a bad job of play-calling, preparation, and meddling with the defense. Other than that, you wash this one away."

REPLAY

The Rams raced to a 7-0 lead on a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by Chris Johnson on the opening kickoff, but after the Seahawks took a 14-7 lead, the Rams were playing from behind for most of the day.

Still, the Rams were poised for one last chance when they stopped Seattle on third down at its own 19-yard line with 3:03 to play. But Shaun McDonald fumbled the ensuing punt at the Rams 40-yard line, and the Seahawks ran out the clock and won 37-31.

McDonald was in the game because Terry Fair, playing his first game since being temporarily paralyzed in an Aug. 29 preseason game against Detroit, took himself out as the punt returner because he was winded from playing defense on the previous series.

PLAYER NOTES

--DE Leonard Little came into the game against Seattle with a foot injury, and then suffered back spasms during the game. Little was in and out of the game, starting in the first quarter.

--CB DeJuan Groce suffered a hamstring injury in the second quarter against Seattle and did not return. His absence resulted in Corey Ivy and Chris Johnson playing cornerback in the nickel defense.

--FS Michael Hawthorne left the Seattle game with what said to be a thigh injury, and was replaced by Mike Furrey.

--WR Torry Holt suffered a bruised knee in the second quarter against Seattle, but returned to the game and finished with eight receptions for 126 yards and a 26-yard touchdown.

--CB Terry Fair played in his first game since being temporarily paralyzed in an Aug. 29 preseason game against Detroit. Fair returned three punts for just 7 yards against the Seahawks.

--OG Claude Terrell, the Rams' fourth-round draft pick, played extensively at right guard in the second half in place of Adam Timmerman.

--RB Marshall Faulk played against the Seahawks, but had no rushes or receptions, the first time in his career he has played in a game without any touches.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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Before the 49ers selected quarterback Alex Smith with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft, coach Mike Nolan spoke at length with Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. Nolan said one thing in particular that Manning told him still resonates above the others.

"He told me how important it is to stick behind him," Nolan said. "Peyton told me that he always appreciated (then-Colts coach) Jim Mora standing behind him the whole time. He said it made him a better quarterback, but it also made his confidence and belief in (Mora) that much stronger. That's important."

Nolan said he will stick behind Smith, whom he inserted as the starter after benching veteran Tim Rattay. Smith had a rough starting debut, throwing four interceptions, losing one fumble and getting sacked five times against the Colts. "It doesn't feel good to throw so many interceptions," Smith said. "No one said this was going to be easy. I have a long road to go down. I have to learn from this game and take away from it what I can."

But, just as Manning advised, Nolan is standing firm behind the rookie.

"Outside of the turnovers, I continue to see what I like in Alex," Nolan said. "He is resilient. They (good quarterbacks) don't let a bad play get them out of their game. They continue to compete. Alex continues to compete." Smith represents the future of the 49ers. The team awarded him a six-year, $49.5 million contract with $24 million in guaranteed money. After just four weeks, Nolan figured the time was right to get him onto the field.

Now, there is no going back. During the week that Smith was named the starter, at least two teams called the 49ers about acquiring Rattay in a trade. Nolan would not rule out the possibility that the 49ers will trade Rattay prior to the Oct. 18 deadline, but he also said the 49ers would not just give Rattay away.

REPLAY

The 49ers defense showed some signs of playing well against one of the league's top offenses, but the offense continued to sputter in a 28-3 loss to the Colts in front of 68,084 fans on hand to see Alex Smith's starting debut at Monster Park. The defense recorded two touchbacks to thwart Colts scoring chances. Safety Mike Adams recovered an Edgerrin James fumble in the end zone, and cornerback Bruce Thornton had an interception in the end zone.

But the offense mustered no touchdowns for a second straight week. The 49ers have now gone 28 consecutive possessions without getting in the end zone.

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Bruce Thornton made an impressive starting debut in just his third NFL game. He held Colts receiver Marvin Harrison to just two catches for 17 yards and also notched his first career interception.

--LB Jeff Ulbrich might be out for the season after sustaining a torn biceps in his left arm. Ulbrich said he could undergo season-ending surgery or run the risk of the biceps never getting reattached to the bone.

--LB Julian Peterson, who has been bothered by a right hamstring pull, saw just a handful of snaps against the Colts. He expects to be near full strength when the 49ers return after the bye week to face the Redskins on Oct. 23.

--RB Kevan Barlow had his best day of the season against the Colts, rushing 18 times for 99 yards. He also led the 49ers in receiving with three catches for 29 yards.

--WR Brandon Lloyd, who had emerged as the 49ers' top offensive playmaker, was held without a catch by the Colts. Lloyd had gone over the 100-yard receiving mark the previous two games with Tim Rattay at quarterback.

--WR Arnaz Battle aggravated his right knee problem against the Colts and is listed as doubtful for the 49ers' Oct. 23 game against the Redskins. He started Sunday's game against the Colts but was held without a catch.

--OLB Andre Carter recorded a sack of Peyton Manning, the first time the Colts QB had been thrown for a loss this season.


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