NFC West News & Notes - 10/3/06

In today's News & Notes: The Seahawks get an unexpected vacation, Arizona reflects on their offensive woes, the Rams get back on the good foot, and the 49ers try to recover from the "Huarding" they received on Sunday.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks' blowout loss to Chicago on Sunday night seemed a lot less important after assistant coach Ray Rhodes became sick enough for the team to make an emergency landing on its flight back to Seattle. The team initially feared that Rhodes had suffered his third mild stroke in the last 14 months, but further examination suggests this latest episode was related to other factors.
Rhodes, 55, was feeling faint on the plane.

"They tested him extensively and he's OK," coach Mike Holmgren said Monday. "The football game didn't have anything to do with this, apparently. It was more dehydration and his diet and how he doesn't eat enough on the day of a game.

"It can be controlled better. And so we learn from this and he learns from it. I think we're going to be OK."

Rhodes returned to Seattle later Monday after passing tests conducted at a hospital in Rapid City, S.D., where the Seahawks made their emergency landing. "Our medical staff and training staff and doctors were right on it and our flight attendants were excellent," Holmgren said. "They did it exactly by the book."

Rhodes went from defensive coordinator in 2004 to consultant after suffering two mild strokes early last season. His job description now covers special projects/defense, but his role has not changed since Rhodes handed over coordinating duties to John Marshall.

One natural question is whether it's safe for Rhodes to continue traveling with the team. "It certainly begs the question," Holmgren said, "but given what we learned about what actually took place, they are not related."

The Seahawks' plane landed in Rapid City after team physicians Dr. Brad Shoup and Dr. Kevin Auld determined that Rhodes' condition was serious enough to require additional tests. Rhodes has battled high blood pressure for years. "All of our hearts and prayers will be with him as he recovers and gets back to doing things," defensive end Bryce Fisher said. "He's a good man. A lot of us on defense, he's the reason why we're here."

NOTES, QUOTES

--How did Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren respond to the most lopsided defeat of his seven-plus seasons in Seattle? Did he make the players run sprints on Monday? Did he schedule daily practices throughout the bye week? Exactly the opposite. With a nod toward getting healthy and forgetting about a 37-6 loss to Chicago on Sunday night, Holmgren gave his players the entire bye week off. The Seahawks will not be on the practice field until Oct. 9.

"I feel a little guilty accepting such a reward like this after a game like that, but I think the No. 1 thing in our coaching staff's mind is us getting healthy and getting ready to have a long season," QB Matt Hasselbeck said. "We expect to have a long season this year and we are a little beat up right now.

"This will give everybody an opportunity to watch some film, to study up and make some adjustments from here on out. For players it will give us a chance to get healthy and healed up. ... I think, honestly, this is the smartest thing to do."

--The Bears seemed to make a statement with their dominating victory over the Seahawks on Sunday night. Or not. "I've told everybody last week that statements are for college players," Seahawks DE Bryce Fisher said. "None of us could care less about Chicago any more. They were on our schedule for last week and next week when we get ready to play St. Louis, that will be the most important game on our schedule."

A statement game, perhaps? "No," Fisher answered. "I don't think people understand that this is the pros. I mean, those things don't matter until December and January. You play games in September and October so you can play games in December that matter. Right now we're 3-1. I think every team in the league would take 3-1 through four games and as far as we're concerned, we have to get better."

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Jerramy Stevens is expected back for the Seahawks' next game, following the bye. He has been out with a knee injury.

--RB Shaun Alexander is expected to miss at least one more game as he recovers from a broken foot, coach Mike Holmgren indicated.

--DB Jordan Babineaux is expected to return from his concussion in time for the Oct. 15 game at St. Louis. Seattle has a bye this week.

--SS Michael Boulware is expected to return from his concussion in time for the Oct. 15 game at St. Louis. Seattle has a bye this week.

--QB Matt Hasselbeck is OK physically after absorbing five sacks against the Bears on Sunday night. Hasselbeck should be 100 percent physically when Seattle returns from its bye week. He had suffered from sore ribs earlier in the season. Hasselbeck now must regain the consistency he showed last season. He has seven interceptions and 13 sacks through four games, unacceptable numbers for a three-time Pro Bowl passer and franchise quarterback.

--DE Joe Tafoya is not expected to return from his knee injury following the bye week. Tafoya missed the Chicago game after suffering the injury during a Sept. 24 game against the Giants. Tafoya is one of the Seahawks' best special-teams players when healthy.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Coach Dennis Green made it clear Monday that his decision to go with Matt Leinart as the starting quarterback is not a temporary one, or one that he made lightly. "If we didn't think he could carry his own water, we wouldn't play him," Warner said.

But the Cardinals planned to have Leinart sit and learn this year for a reason. It's hard for a rookie quarterback to be successful in the NFL. There have been exceptions, such as Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger, but he had a great running game and a stout defense to help him. Leinart has neither.

The Cardinals are tied for 30th in the league in rushing, averaging 71 yards a game. That is one yard less than they averaged last year when they finished last. The defense is decent but inconsistent, and if poor special teams play continues, Leinart often is going to find himself with bad field position.

Green made it clear Monday that he's not expecting Leinart to be a savior.

"We'll do the best we can to try and create an atmosphere where he can go out and let some other guys make some plays, too, (so) it's not all on his shoulders," Green said. Leinart is replacing Kurt Warner, who has struggled the past three weeks. The Cardinals have lost three straight and scored only 34 points in those games. Warner has thrown five interceptions in that time, and the Cardinals have committed a total of 10 turnovers in those games.

It's not all Warner's fault, but his performance left Green little choice but to turn to Leinart. "We made a lot of uncharacteristic mistakes that just aren't us," Warner said. "I think sometimes you get into a situation where you start to press. Everybody's trying to make that one play to get us going, to pick up the rest of the guys. It's a tough way to play the game of football. Usually when that happens, you're never as good."

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB Edgerrin James gained just 41 yards on 20 carries and is at a loss to explain why the Cardinals offense is struggling so much. "That's the crazy part, you've got so much talent," he said. "For some reason, we're not clicking. I don't know what it is. We've got to figure it out soon."

--CB Eric Green was benched in the second quarter after he failed to make plays on the ball, even though he was in position. Green said he was surprised he was pulled, even though coach Dennis Green had benched David Macklin in favor of Green in week one. "Yea, anybody would be surprised," he surprised. "I mean, they're the coaches, they make the calls. We're the players, we do what we're told."
Green doesn't feel like teams are picking on him, although it's obvious to everyone else. "Who me? No. Not really. Guys made a play on the ball. I was there. That happens. This is the NFL, they get paid, too."

--QB Matt Leinart thinks this offense is going to be fine, even though there is little evidence that a turnaround is imminent.
"We've got the guys there. I think we just have to believe in ourselves and get some confidence back," he said. "The season is not over. It's only four games old. We've got a lot of football left to play."


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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The frustration was there in quarterback Marc Bulger's eyes. You could see it as the Rams' offense sputtered during the first two weeks of the season, and the nagging questions came from those accustomed to seeing Mike Martz's offense for the previous seven seasons. Bulger kept his cool and talked confidently that it was only a matter of time before things started clicking. Coach Scott Linehan said much the same thing, recalling how it took until more than two months into the 2005 season before his Miami Dolphins offenses reached a comfort zone.

No one could predict how soon it would happen with the Rams, but it's safe to say now that the feeling is a lot better. In the first two games of the season, Bulger completed 37 of 68 passes for 402 yards and one touchdown with passer ratings of 72.8 and 81.1. The Rams didn't score a touchdown against Denver in the season opener and reached the end zone just once in Week 2 against San Francisco.

Entering Sunday's game against Detroit, the Rams had scored touchdowns on just two of 10 trips to the red zone, although one "failure" occurred when they took a knee inside the 10-yard line as time expired in the opening-day win over the Broncos.

It looked like there would be more frustration when they managed just a field goal against the Lions after three plays from the 1-yard line failed to produce a touchdown.
But the gates opened after that, as the Rams scored touchdowns on their next four red-zone trips, and the final one was a 5-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Isaac Bruce that won the game. They even got the 2-point conversion on another pass to Bruce. When the dust had cleared, the Rams had a 41-34 victory, and Bulger's numbers over the last two games looked like this: 47 of 73 passing (64.4 percent) for 637 yards and four touchdowns with ratings of 110.8 and 110.0.

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

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

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

NOTES, QUOTES

--Rookie TE Joe Klopfenstein, this year's second-round pick, had a limited pass-catching role the first few weeks as coach Scott Linehan wanted to bring him along slowly. But Klopfenstein scored the first touchdown of his career in the first quarter against the Lions, and it was significant because it came in the red zone. Earlier in the quarter, the Rams had yet another red-zone failure, not being able to punch in a touchdown on three shots from the 1-yard line. Klopfenstein's score came from the 16-yard line on first down.

"Catching that touchdown pass was a pretty big pinnacle and I'm pretty excited about it," he said. "It's a play we have practiced all week and when I saw the defense they were in I knew it was coming. We actually ran a play out of the same formation earlier and the linebackers sucked up leaving the middle wide open and I knew I was going to get the throw." It also started a torrent of red-zone touchdowns for the Rams. On their next three trips, the Rams scored touchdowns on a 16-yard pass to Torry Holt, a 1-yard run by Steven Jackson and the winning touchdown on a 5-yard pass to Isaac Bruce.

--DE Leonard Little gave a salute after a sack in honor of his brother, Lamont Hughes, who is in Iraq. Said Little, "It was for him. He emailed me the other day and told me to salute if I did get a sack. I did it for him and Tyoka (Jackson, the former Ram now with Detroit). I think about my brother all the time. He's over there fighting for our country and we're over here living in the free world. I email him all the time and I talk to him every now and then. He's trying to keep up with the games over there. He was able to see our last game and it gave me a little more inspiration today, to come out and do it for him."

--WR Isaac Bruce moved into the top 10 in NFL career receiving Sunday, scored the winning touchdown and also scored the 2-point conversion that gave the Rams a 7-point lead late in the game. For the game, Bruce had seven receptions for 100 yards. It was his first touchdown of the season. Said Bruce, "I know Coach (Mike) Martz (Lions offensive coordinator), and this was a big game to me. It was a good time to get the first."

The 100-yard game was Bruce's 40th of his career, but Torry Holt stayed ahead of him with his 41st, totaling 102 yards on six catches.
"I'm happy for Isaac," coach Scott Linehan said. "He's like all the other guys, just hanging in there through all the transitions. They're just trying to see how they fit in and what we're trying to get done."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Torry Holt caught a 16-yard touchdown pass Sunday to give him 342 career points, passing Hall of Famer Elroy Hirsch (339) for 10th on the Rams' all-time scoring list. Holt also passed Henry Ellard (9,761) for second place on the Rams' all-time receiving yards list. Holt also passed Ellard (9,816) for third on the Rams' all-time scrimmage yards list.

--FB Paul Smith spent the night in the hospital after suffering a concussion because of a collision with Lions G Frank Davis on the second-half kickoff. Smith and Davis were in the same room at the hospital. Smith was being evaluated for possible fractures around his eye area.

--LT Orlando Pace felt better Monday than he did the week before after playing against Arizona. It's possible Pace will do some work in practice Wednesday.

--LB Pisa Tinoisamoa will continue to play with an elbow originally dislocated against Arizona on Sept. 24. He re-injured the elbow Sunday against Detroit, but came back in after his brace was cut off and a new brace put on at halftime.

--DE Anthony Hargrove played about 25 plays Sunday after missing the previous week's game against Arizona. Hargrove had missed two days of practice before the game against Cardinals, and it was an unexcused absence.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers played well against the run, but their pass defense was severely lacking against Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard in the 41-0 loss Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. Huard completed 18 of 23 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Huard had a passer rating of 133.3. But 49ers coach Mike Nolan said his team's pass defense was really close to making a lot of those plays to get the ball back to the defense.

"Those are nice throws," Nolan said. "I guess if there's any surprise I didn't expect Damon Huard to make pretty nice throws.

"Those ones that were caught, we were right there," Nolan said. "We got to get in position to make the play or throw the timing off more or get the sack. There were two or three times where we come free and we don't make the sack and he stepped forward and stepped around and made the play down the field."

Third-year cornerback Shawntae Spencer was beaten on several occasions, including a pass interference call on Chiefs receiver Dante Hall in the end zone that resulted in an 18-yard gain to the 1-yard line. Spencer was also beaten on a double move from Chiefs receiver Eddie Kennison on a 34-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter.

Nolan said he has been impressed with the play from his cornerbacks, Spencer and veteran Walt Harris. "They aren't (grading out) 100 percent, but they are competing," Nolan said. "Shawntae is really just learning how to play corner. Walt's been a great addition not only for this team but also to Shawntae. From a coverage standpoint, he competes all the way."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Running back Frank Gore, awarded the starting job when Kevan Barlow was traded to the Jets in the preseason, has shown plenty of good and bad in the early season. Gore has run the ball aggressively, but he has also fumbled in each of the team's first four games. On Gore's second carry of the game, Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson jarred the ball loose from Gore for a turnover. The fumble led to a Chiefs field goal and a 10-0 lead in the first quarter.

"I was thinking too much," Gore said. "I was nervous. I was trying to not make mistakes and it happened. I wasn't myself at the beginning of the game. I just had to forget it and play football." Gore fumbled on the goal line in the 49ers' two previous games. The 49ers have decided to go with Michael Robinson in short-yardage situations.

--Right tackle Kwame Harris struggled in pass protection against Chiefs rookie defensive end Tamba Hali. Coach Mike Nolan was asked about the possibility of benching Harris, the team's top pick from the 2003 draft. "We'll look at the entire roster," Nolan said. "We don't have a tremendous amount of depth on our football team. That's what we're trying to restore. If somebody's not giving their all, certainly they don't deserve to start, but I wouldn't say that's where we're at right now."

--The 49ers after the game claimed they did not underestimate Chiefs quarterback Damon Huard, who went 2,135 days between NFL victories. Huard threw for 208 yards and two touchdowns against the 49ers to improve to 6-2 as a starter in his 10 NFL seasons. But Nolan made it sound as if they were not expecting Huard to be as sharp as he was.

"Those are nice throws," Nolan said. "I guess if there's any surprise, I didn't expect Damon Huard to make pretty nice throws." Cornerback Walt Harris said the 49ers had a huge role in making Huard look so good.

"He's a veteran quarterback," Harris said. "I look at it as what we didn't do. No bashing on him, but there were things we just didn't do and I'm accountable for some of them." The 49ers' biggest problems were on third downs. The secondary and pass rush took responsibility for the breakdowns, which allowed the Chiefs to convert six of eight third downs in the first half. "We got to third down many times," Harris said. "The guys up front did their jobs stopping the run. And we didn't get off the field on third downs."

--The 49ers surrendered plays of 31 and 29 yards because of penalties tacked onto the end of Chiefs pass completions. Linebacker Jeff Ulbrich was called for a 15-yard face-mask penalty at the end of tight end Tony Gonzalez's 16 yard reception. And defensive lineman Bryant Young was slapped with a 15-yarder for a low hit on Huard after his 14-yard pass to Gonzalez. Young said he believed his hit on Huard was above the knee, which should not have warranted the unnecessary-roughness penalty.

PLAYER NOTES

--FB Moran Norris made his second consecutive start, as the 49ers decided to use him instead of Chris Hetherington because his blocking fit into the team's game plan. Norris played 24 of the team's 51 offensive snaps. He did not carry the ball, and had one reception for minus-7 yards.

--WR Antonio Bryant took part in every one of the team's offensive plays. He finished with just two catches for 29 yards, giving him 14 receptions for 310 yards this season.

--QB Alex Smith struggled in almost every phase of Sunday's game. It all started up front with his protection. Smith threw for just 92 yards and two interceptions. Through four games, Smith has thrown for 906 yards, surpassing his 875 yards passing in seven starts a year ago.

--CB Shawntae Spencer struggled in coverage in the first half against the Chiefs. He surrendered man coverage pass completions of 15, 12, 7 and 34 yards, the latter resulting in an Eddie Kennison touchdown. He was also called for pass interference in the end zone, an 18-yard penalty.

--LG Larry Allen, who has missed three games with a left knee injury, is expected to return to practice this week and might be available for Sunday's game against the Raiders. Allen will probably be listed as questionable Wednesday, when the 49ers must submit an injury report to the league office.


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