NFC West News & Notes - 11/15/05

As the Cardinals try to find meaning in a lost season and the Rams try to see the upside in their own slipping grip on any chance to win the division, NFC West bully Seattle prepares to meet San Francisco in today's NFC West News & Notes.


Winning tends to make for a healthy atmosphere in the locker room. The Seahawks are certainly feeling that way after collecting their fifth consecutive victory Sunday. Improving team chemistry was a top priority for team president Tim Ruskell upon his arrival in February. "You can't underestimate it," said receiver Joe Jurevicius, who was with Ruskell in Tampa Bay. "Every team that I've ever been on that has been successful and won championships has had camaraderie.

"The teams that I've been on where we haven't done well, the camaraderie was lacking." The Seahawks' camaraderie has been generally good in recent seasons, but not perfect. Ruskell improved it by getting rid of several players who weren't holding up their end of the deal. Prominent examples include wide receiver Koren Robinson and right tackle Chris Terry, who had off-field problems, and linebacker Anthony Simmons, who clashed with coaches.

"I'm a firm believer that you have to bring good guys into the locker room," Jurevicius said. "You have to do things off the football field to get better, whether it's going to dinner or going to your teammate's kid's dance recital.

"You have to do things that help people off the field, and I think we do that. I think that translates into what you see here, a neat group of guys in the locker room that get along. We enjoy playing together."

The feeling of togetherness might best explain why Seattle's defense has remained effective after sustaining injuries to a few key players. Defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs and linebacker Jamie Sharper missed the 31-16 victory over St. Louis on Sunday, while free safety Ken Hamlin is out for the season.

"It's a cohesive unit," said free safety Marquand Manuel, who has played very well in relief of Hamlin. "I don't know if people see that, but we see it every day. Guys are in the huddle talking, we're in practice talking. There is a high expectation for each player. You don't want to let your other teammates down. I think that's the biggest thing."


--The Seahawks received a lift recently when FS Ken Hamlin appeared at practice showing no apparent effects from the severe head trauma he suffered during a nightclub fight Oct. 17. Hamlin is out for the season, but when coaches ask players to avoid dangerous situations in their spare time, the message resonates a little more. "Ken understands now how blessed he is," defensive tackle Marcus Tubbs said. "The situation could have turned out for the worse. Life is so short. You live every day to the fullest and maybe make better decisions. He is just blessed to be here."

The team isn't sure when -- or if -- Hamlin might return to the field, but it won't happen this season. "He is feeling better," coach Mike Holmgren said. "We have to take it slow. Long-term, I don't have an answer for you. We are researching that, and we are going to do the right thing."

--MLB Lofa Tatupu has been everything and more in terms of what coaches envisioned on draft day. The rookie from USC has made 67 tackles, three sacks and one interception while starting every game. Tatupu's personality makes him a natural leader. His sense of humor came through when Holmgren teased Tatupu about getting bowled over by massive Cowboys lineman Larry Allen.

"Uh, yeah, he's a big dude, coach," Tatupu replied.



--RB Shaun Alexander is on pace to break Paul Hornung's league record for scoring. Hornung had 176 points in 1960. Alexander is on pace to score 180. He already has 17 touchdowns in only nine games, putting him on pace for 30 TDs this season. Hornung scored 15 touchdowns, kicked 15 field goals and converted 41 extra points in only 12 games for the 1960 Packers, an 8-4 team that lost at Philadelphia 17-13 in the NFL Championship in Vince Lombardi's second year.

--DT Rodney Bailey came up big Sunday while making his first appearance of the season. His forced fumble in the fourth quarter stopped a key Rams drive in the red zone. Bailey spent the 2004 season on injured reserve with New England. He has recovered from a torn Achilles' tendon. Seattle needed Bailey on Sunday because the team was without starting DT Marcus Tubbs.

--LB D.D. Lewis was able to play Sunday despite a knee injury that forced him to miss practices last week. The knee still might keep Lewis out of games this season, but the team has so far succeeded in plugging young players into the lineup.

--LB LeRoy Hill made his second NFL start Sunday, collecting a sack to give him 4 1/2 on the season. Hill also has 27 tackles. That puts Hill up there with some of the more heralded NFL rookies, including Cowboys LB Demarcus Ware (four sacks, 24 tackles).

--LB Jamie Sharper has a staph infection in his knee and could miss four weeks, coach Mike Holmgren indicated Monday. The team was hopeful that Sharper might return ahead of schedule, but the four-week timetable is one Holmgren described as typical.


QB Matt Hasselbeck managed the game very efficiently, which is becoming the norm. His numbers took a big hit thanks to a pair of interceptions beyond his control. On the first, a Rams defender clearly interfered with TE Jerramy Stevens, preventing him from making the catch. On the second, TE Ryan Hannam let the ball bounce off his chest, and into the arms of St. Louis LB Dexter Coakley. WR D.J. Hackett stretched the Rams defense with a 31-yard TD grab and a 47-yard non-scoring grab. WR Bobby Engram and WR Joe Jurevicius made clutch catches late in the game despite rainy conditions. Seattle also held the Rams without a sack.

RUSHING OFFENSE: A -- The Seahawks stuck with the running game and it paid off nicely. RB Shaun Alexander worked hard for his 165 yards and three TDs, setting a season high with 33 carries. His second-effort runs helped Seattle convert 10 of 15 times on third down, including 4-for-4 on the game-clinching TD drive in the final minutes. RT Sean Locklear showed improvement in his run blocking. Jurevicius continued to show why he's one of the better blocking receivers in the game, sealing off a defender for an extended period during one of Alexander's scoring runs.

PASS DEFENSE: B -- Seattle got sacks from DT Rocky Bernard, LB LeRoy Hill and MLB Lofa Tatupu. DE Bryce Fisher and DE Grant Wistrom batted down passes. SS Michael Boulware picked off a pass. DT Rodney Bailey forced a fumble after a key Rams reception. Qwest Field even helped foil one potential Rams scoring pass when WR Torry Holt lost track of a ball that nearly hit him near the goal line. The Seahawks watched Rams QB Marc Bulger top 300 yards passing, but they made sure those yards were mostly irrelevant.

RUSH DEFENSE: A -- The Seahawks remained the only team in the NFC not to allow a 100-yard individual rusher. Containing Rams RB Steven Jackson might have been the most important factor in Seattle's victory. Jackson did break free for an 18-yard gain, the longest by a running back against Seattle this season. But the Seahawks' linebackers were physical and aggressive enough to prevent the bruising Jackson from imposing his will on them. Jackson finished with only 70 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- This was probably the Seahawks' most impressive special teams performance of the season. The team's much-criticized kick-return unit gave Seattle possession outside its 30-yard-line four times in five chances. The team also went without a penalty on special teams, a huge accomplishment for a team that had been flagged 10 times on kick returns alone. The Seahawks also managed a 19-yard punt return, one of their longest this season. Cold, rainy conditions made punting difficult, taking P Tom Rouen off the hook for a weak effort.

COACHING: A -- The Seahawks were better prepared than the Rams. That was apparent early when Seattle CB Marcus Trufant expertly foiled the Rams' attempt at a fake field goal. Offensively, coach Mike Holmgren remained loyal to the running game, as he should have, but he also remembered to take a few shots down the field. The Seahawks' 31-yard TD pass helped loosen up the Rams' defense. Some coaches might have played it more conservatively given the heavy rains. Defensively, the team continued to function smoothly without ailing coordinator Ray Rhodes. Seattle again reaped maximum results from young players in key positions, notably Hill at weak-side linebacker.


With each week, the Cardinals are losing starters to injury, and that's something this team can ill afford. No one should blame the team's 2-7 record solely on injuries, because it didn't play well when healthy. But those injuries are going to make it difficult for them to salvage any respectability this year.

Left guard Reggie Wells is the latest starter to go down. He suffered a fractured and dislocated left ankle Sunday in Detroit and is out for the season. He'll be replaced by either Adam Haayer, normally a backup tackle, or Jeremy Bridges, who has been on and off the roster all year. It's likely the team will re-sign Bridges this week.

Wells' absence means the interior of the offensive line will have undergone dramatic changes in the past three weeks. First, Alex Stepanovich moved from center to guard and Nick Leckey took over at center. And now Wells is gone.

The offensive line has struggled from the start of training camp, and the situation hasn't improved. The defense is banged up, too. Outside linebacker Karlos Dansby suffered a groin muscle injury last week and is expected to miss at least one game.

The team already is playing without defensive end Bertrand Berry (torn pectoral), nose tackle Russell Davis (torn biceps) and cornerback Antrel Rolle (knee). In addition, the Cardinals are missing several key backups, including defensive linemen Calvin Pace (cut arm), Kenny King (wrist) and Langston Moore (knee).

"What's gnawing at me is the fact I have not done as well as I expected to do," coach Dennis Green said. "I've said many times, when I show up for work, whether it be today or the first day, I expect to be successful. That's just the kind of person I am. That's the kind of psyche that I have. I take a very aggressive approach, and I've felt all along that to turn this program around, you have to be very aggressive, and we have been."


--Quarterback Kurt Warner is 34 and growing increasingly frustrated at the team's troubles. "I haven't been this frustrated too many times in my career," Warner said. He admitted to The Arizona Republic that this season has taken some life out of him, to the point where he's wondering what life is like when a career is over. "I kick that question around all the time," Warner aid. "I think I have a lot to offer, but it's tough being in a situation where you don't play up to your capabilities, and this is two years in a row now."

--Six times this season opponents have scored on their opening possession of the game. Green thinks his defense is relying too much on the defense that's called, and not enough on just beating the guy in front them. "Defense is a game where you actually have to whip the guy in front of you," he said.

--J.J. Arrington scored the team's first rushing touchdown of the season, from 1 yard out. It was also Arrington's first NFL touchdown.

--Neil Rackers has made 28 consecutive field goals this season. He had two Sunday, including a 51-yarder.



--WR Anquan Boldin could return this week after missing two games with a bone bruise near his right knee. He is scheduled to undergo an MRI to see how the knee is healed, and he's expected to try to practice Wednesday.

--RG Reggie Wells is out for the season after suffering a broken and dislocated left ankle in the first half last week. He'll be replaced by either Adam Haayer or Jeremy Bridges.

--RB Marcel Shipp will remain the starter despite not playing in the second half of last week's game. Shipp struggled in the first half last week and didn't play in the second half. It was a difficult week for him. He attended his father's funeral Friday, then met the team in Detroit.

--OLB Karlos Dansby could miss at least one week with a groin injury. If Dansby can't play, rookie Darryl Blackstock will take over.


Kurt Warner threw the ball well and wasn't sacked. He passed for 359 yards, a season high, and didn't have an interception.

RUSHING OFFENSE: F -- Detroit tackles Shaun Rogers and Dan Wilkinson dominated and too often were in the backfield. The Cardinals fell behind and were forced to throw.

PASS DEFENSE: F -- The Cardinals made Joey Harrington look like John Elway. Harrington passed for three touchdowns and did not commit a turnover. The Cardinals had just one sack.

RUSH DEFENSE: F -- The Lions had been struggling running the ball but got well against the Cardinals, gaining 157 yards on 32 carries.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Kicker Neil Rackers made two field-goal attempts and two tackles. The return teams produced nothing, and the kickoff coverage was lacking.

COACHING: D -- The team was undisciplined. The Cardinals were called for too many penalties and missed too many tackles. The running game hasn't improved.


For two weeks, it was the game they had focused on, knowing injured players would be back after the bye. It was a game they knew they had to win to close the gap with the Seahawks in the NFC West. And despite falling behind 24-6 at one point, the Rams kept fighting to get back in the game. After they finally scored a red-zone touchdown with seven minutes remaining to get within eight points, players remembered the come-from-behind overtime victory last season in Seattle.

"When we got that touchdown, it put us down by eight. We felt we could get in position to make a run at it," wide receiver Dane Looker said.

Said quarterback Marc Bulger, "Maybe some guys that weren't on the team, Alex (Barron) and those guys (weren't there). You've got to remind them that we've been in a lot worse situations than this. There's a lot of time; we can come back."

However, the Rams weren't able to get the ball back until after running back Shaun Alexander had scored his third touchdown of the game. On a 12-play, 69-yard drive, Alexander had nine attempts for 38 yards, including the 17-yard touchdown, and the Seahawks converted four third-down plays.

"On that drive, that's what was going on the whole game," defensive lineman Tyoka Jackson said.

Indeed. Alexander rushed for 165 yards on 33 attempts, with 95 coming on five runs.

"We kind of know the plays he is going to run," interim coach Joe Vitt said. "He is a guy that if you have one missed assignment, don't get into your gap, he is a guy that can break it into the second level very quickly. The one long run he had in the third quarter, I mean, we had one guy out of position, he hits a crease or a crack and he is gone. At the end of the game, he broke that long run, we had what we call a pinch.

"It's an inside slant. We thought they would go inside the tackle and so we were taking a chance there. We're just trying somehow to get the ball back to the offense. The game was lost before that last play. They get the ball back with seven minutes to play. We get four third-down situations, and we can't get them off the (field)."

The Rams also sputtered in the red zone. On their first four trips inside the Seattle 20-yard line, the Rams came away with only nine points. On 13 red-zone plays in those possessions, the Rams "totaled" minus-2 yards.

Said Bulger, "That was the difference in the game. We were able to move the ball all the way down to the 10-yard line, then we couldn't get in. If we had gotten in half of the times we got down there, it's a different game. But you've got to give them credit for holding us when they did. But at the same time, we didn't do what we're supposed to do."


--Despite the loss, Rams players talked positively about their chances in the second half of the season. Quarterback Marc Bulger, who passed for 304 yards and had a rating of 90.0 in his first game since Oct. 17, refused to accept the fact that Seattle's three-game division lead might be insurmountable.

"So many things can happen," Bulger said. "They're obviously playing well right now. They're going to lose a couple, just like we have. We don't have much margin for error anymore. We have to start winning some ballgames. If we don't win the division, we have to put ourselves in the position to get a playoff spot."
The reality is the three-game lead is actually four because the Seahawks beat the Rams twice. Were the Rams to win six of their last seven games to finish 10-6, the Seahawks would have to finish 2-5 for the Rams to win the division.

Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "We're going to come right to work tomorrow. This is what it is. It's not going to change our approach, it's not going to change our work habits. It's not going to change our commitment, it's not going to change the accountability factor. It's not going to change any of those things. The fact of the matter is that we have another game on Sunday. And we have to prepare and play for that."

That game is against the Cardinals, which features the return to St. Louis of quarterback Kurt Warner.

Running back Steven Jackson, who rushed 17 times for 70 yards and added another 45 yards on five receptions, said, "Not too many teams have been through what we have been through. Resiliency is something that is part of our character around here. We still have a chance to come out with our team goal, to get 10 wins on the season. We just have to get it going pretty fast. We have to get these next two games in November and hopefully carry it over to December. See what happens."

--The Rams were leading 3-0 when they lined up for a field-goal attempt at the Seattle 8-yard line early in the second quarter. But instead of kicking, holder Dane Looker tossed the ball to kicker Jeff Wilkins, who was immediately dropped by Marcus Trufant for a 4-yard loss. "We've seen them on film pretty consistently come strong from the wide side of the field," Looker said of Trufant. "They'll bring the rush off that side."

But Trufant read the play perfectly. Added Looker, "They played the right defense for that, and we missed the opportunity." Explaining his decision to fake, rather than take a 6-0 lead, interim coach Joe Vitt said, "I wanted to get points. When you're facing the No. 1 offense in the National Football League, we thought it would be high-scoring. Tendency-wise, (the fake) was there. It was there in the first game. ... It backfired, and that's my fault."



--OG Rex Tucker saw some time at left guard in place of rookie Claude Terrell, and played well against the Seahawks, according to Vitt. Tucker had been switched from guard to tackle in training camp.

--OG Claude Terrell is developing as a rookie, and he needs to improve his conditioning to finish games strong. Terrell started at left guard but was replaced by Rex Tucker.

--DE Leonard Little played Sunday for the first time since Oct. 17 against Indianapolis, the same day his brother was murdered in Tennessee. Little had no sacks and a key offside in the second half.

--MLB Chris Claiborne, despite having just one credited tackle, played well in the running game, according to interim coach Joe Vitt.

--RT Alex Barron struggled with key penalties again against Seattle, but will continue to be the starter.


QB Marc Bulger returned from a two-game absence to pass for 304 yards and one touchdown. He spread the ball around to nine receivers. However, TE Brandon Manumaleuna lost a fumble at the Seattle 13-yard line after gaining a first down, and WR Torry Holt lost sight of the ball on a throw by Bulger that likely would have been a touchdown.

RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- RB Steven Jackson rushed for 70 yards on 17 carries but wasn't effective in the red zone, running five times for 4 yards. Three of those yards came on one play.

PASS DEFENSE: B-minus --
The Rams didn't get much pressure on QB Matt Hasselbeck, and while he had a rating of only 68.6, he was able to hit several key third-down passes. For the game, Hasselbeck was six-for-10 on third down for 91 yards, and all were good for first downs. WR Bobby Engram had four of those conversions.

RUSH DEFENSE: D -- The Rams knew they couldn't allow RB Shaun Alexander to gash them for big plays, but it happened anyway. Alexander had three touchdowns, and runs of 17, 21 and 37 yards.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- Coverage teams were OK, while new kick returner David Allen couldn't get much going. He averaged 18.7 yards on six kickoff returns, and 8.0 yards on two punt returns. The latter is an improvement, considering the Rams were averaging 3.6 yards on punt returns entering the game. A fake field goal didn't work and cost the Rams an easy three points.

COACHING: C-plus -- There was no talk of the motivational gimmicks interim coach Joe Vitt used for this game, which usually happens after a loss. The Rams were basically the same team they've been all year on the road. Aside from a 17-12 win over Arizona, the Rams have lost their other four road games by a combined score of 148-93.


The 49ers' passing game has been abysmal in the past six games, as the team has tried four quarterbacks. San Francisco has managed just two offensive touchdowns in the past six games. Niners coach Mike Nolan said Monday he was not sure who would play quarterback in Sunday's game against the Seahawks.
In fact, Nolan left it wide open. Fourth-stringer Jesse Palmer is the only quarterback Nolan did not mention as a potential starter for Sunday's game.

Cody Pickett got his second straight start in the 49ers' 17-9 loss Sunday to the Bears. He completed a franchise-low one pass in 13 attempts for just 28 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. "It's hard to say with a young quarterback that it's a step back because they start at such a low level as it is," Nolan said in evaluating Pickett's performance. "He didn't play as well as a week ago, but there's always a lot of things that contribute to that."

Certainly, the most glaring problem Pickett and the 49ers experienced on Sunday was dealing with winds gusting up to 48 mph at Soldier Field.

So who starts against the Seahawks? It's anybody's guess at this point. Pickett started because backup Ken Dorsey was still hobbled by an ankle sprain. Dorsey started one game after rookie Alex Smith went down with a sprained right knee on Oct. 23 against the Redskins. "The only healthy one we had last week was Cody, so that's why Cody got the start," Nolan said. "There's a possibility that Ken will start if he's healthy. And if Alex is healthy, there's a possibility he will as well. So we'll wait and see on Wednesday which of the group is healthy."

The 49ers' depth chart remains Smith as the starter, followed by Dorsey and Pickett, Nolan said.

Since the 49ers banished starter Tim Rattay, the club has struggled with its quarterback play. Smith, Dorsey and Pickett have combined for a passer rating of 24.7 this season. The 49ers have not thrown a TD pass since a Week 3 loss to the Cowboys.


--Sometimes people try to look too hard for reasons why the 49ers offense is struggling. Coach Mike Nolan gave a pretty elementary reason why the club has not been able to generate much production. "It's kind of like saying, 'Well, you just can't win the 100-yard dash.' A lot of times it's because you're slower than the other guys," Nolan said. "In our case, we have some other things that lead to the fact that we haven't scored a touchdown."

--The 49ers had two tight ends and a long snapper as their best hopes for tackling the Bears' Nathan Vasher on his NFL-record 108-yard missed field goal return. Otherwise, it was a mismatch when all those 49ers offensive linemen tried to corral Vasher. Guard Justin Smiley, listed at 6-foot-3, 300 pounds, had the first crack at Vasher and said he should have made the tackle. "I tried to hem him up," Smiley said. "But you have a bunch of 300-pounders trying to cover a 200-pounder." Said 49ers special teams coordinator Larry Mac Duff: "Their main job is to be out there for protection purposes. The second part of that is the coverage part."

--When Nolan elected to send kicker Joe Nedney onto the field to try a 52-yard field goal, he said he did so because Nedney is one of the team's better players. Also, he saw Nedney make a 51-yard attempt at the same end of Soldier Field in pre-game warm-ups. "Joe was the strength of our football team, and I have a tremendous amount of confidence in him," Nolan said.



--S Tony Parrish was scheduled to be placed on injured reserve after sustaining breaks to his left ankle and fibula in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Bears. Parrish had started the first 121 games of his NFL career before the injury.

--S Keith Lewis, a second-year player from Oregon, filled in for injured S Tony Parrish and recorded four tackles. With the Seahawks next on the 49ers schedule, coach Mike Nolan said Lewis will see plenty of action but it might be more situational as he rotates with nickel linebacker Ben Emanuel.

--LB Jim Maxwell, a recent free agent pickup, is getting more and more playing time because of the rash of injuries on the 49ers' defense. Maxwell had two tackles on defense and made a fumble recovery on special teams.

--LS Brian Jennings, a Pro Bowl selection last year, had a flawless day at Soldier Field. He negotiated the winds perfectly to direct seven snaps to punter Andy Lee and four more snaps to Lee as the holder on field-goal attempts. Jennings even forced and recovered a fumble.

--QB Cody Pickett, who completed just one of 13 passing attempts, saw his season passer rating fall to 28.3.


The wind was ferocious at Soldier Field, but still there is no way to sugarcoat the horrid nature of the 49ers' passing attack, or lack thereof. QB Cody Pickett completed just one pass (a franchise low) in 13 attempts. The 49ers also had three dropped passes, including two on which usually sure-handed Brandon Lloyd flubbed. Lloyd blamed a dropped pass at the end zone on Pickett releasing the ball too soon. Lloyd also had the only reception for the 49ers, a 28-yard pass in the third quarter.

RUSHING OFFENSE: D -- The 49ers gained 133 yards rushing but they had 46 tries, averaging just 2.9 yards a carry. Frank Gore's hard-attacking style was much more effective, as he gained 60 yards on 15 carries. Kevan Barlow's dancing allowed the fast Bears defense to swarm to him. He managed 58 yards on 24 tries. When the 49ers got to the Bears 2-yard line, Barlow was stuffed for no gain and Pickett was stopped at the 1-yard line before they started going in reverse due to penalties.

PASS DEFENSE: B-plus -- The wind aided the 49ers on defense, as Bears quarterback Kyle Orton threw for just 67 yards. CB Shawntae Spencer came up with a big play when he made an interception in the end zone to thwart one Bears scoring chance. But he also had a questionable 23-yard pass-interference penalty. LB Andre Carter's 15-yard roughing penalty on Orton was also a big play on the same drive.

RUSH DEFENSE: D-minus --
The 49ers' front seven has been very good at stopping the run for most of the season. But they got manhandled by the Bears. Because they knew the run was coming, the 49ers should have been able to deal with it more effectively. Instead, they allowed Adrian Peterson to gain 120 yards on 24 carries. Cedric Benson added 50 yards on 12 carries before getting injured in the second quarter.

SPECIAL TEAMS: C -- It was a mixed bag for the 49ers in this phase of the game. K Joe Nedney once again supplied all the 49ers' points with three field goals. But on his one miss, from 52 yards out, Bears deep man Nathan Vasher caught the ball 8 yards deep in the end zone and returned it all the way, 108 yards, for a touchdown and the longest play in NFL history. The 49ers recovered three fumbles from Bears punt returner Bobby Wade, resulting in two field goals. But Rasheed Marshall muffed a punt that the Bears turned into three points, too.

COACHING: D-minus -- How does a team get called for 12 men in the huddle when it has a third-and-goal from the 1-yard line? It was a critical penalty at the most inopportune time. And then, the 49ers compounded the mistake with a delay-of-game penalty. So instead of looking at being 1 yard away from a rare 49ers touchdown, they went back to the 11-yard line, where they failed on third down and had to settle for a field goal. Coach Mike Nolan's use of timeouts was not good at the end of either half, too. His decision to send Nedney out for a long field goal in the wind turned out to be disastrous when Vasher returned the short kick for a touchdown, giving the Bears a 7-3 lead at halftime. Top Stories