NFC West News & Notes - 10/10/06

In today's News & Notes: Seattle gets back to work after a week off (key offensive weapon in tow), the Rams celebrate another edge-of-their-seats win, the 49ers take another step forward, and the Cardinals pay, once again, for ignoring their offensive line.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks are thrilled to work tight end Jerramy Stevens into the offense for the first time this season. He might be back in the lineup Sunday after missing four games due to knee surgery. "I think it's going to be a huge thing for our offense," quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "He was a huge part of what we did last year in terms of success."

The Seahawks have been playing with Itula Mili and Will Heller at the position. There was even one stretch when a knee injury forced Mili out of the lineup, leaving Heller alone to carry the load. "All three of those guys are different," Hasselbeck said. "Jerramy has something that we haven't had on the field this year. He adds an element of size and speed and athletic ability catching the ball, getting open that was great for our offense last year. Having him back is going to be a great thing."

Stevens caught a career-high 45 passes last season. People remember him for the passes he dropped in Super Bowl XL, not that he scored the Seahawks' only touchdown in the game, or that the Steelers had trouble covering him.

Stevens' athletic ability created favorable matchups for Seattle all last season, something that has been missing during the team's 3-1 start.

"I saw him run a couple routes today and it thought he was moving well," coach Mike Holmgren said Monday. "The big test is how he feels the next day. But it's nice having the big guy back. He's excited to be back and you can tell."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Longtime Seahawks LB Isaiah Kacyvenski will line up on the other side when Seattle visits the Rams on Sunday. The Seahawks had hoped to re-sign Kacyvenski after releasing him to clear a roster spot for RB Marquis Weeks before the team's game against Chicago. Those plans fell through when Kacyvenski signed with the Rams instead. Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren was upset at Kacyvenski, to the point that Kacyvenski wondered if they would be on speaking terms again. Nothing changed during the Seahawks' bye week.

"No comment," Holmgren said tersely when asked about Kacyvenski on Monday. "Thanks for asking."

--QB Matt Hasselbeck was rooting for the Packers when he watched football from his living room during the Seahawks' bye week Sunday. Hasselbeck knew a Green Bay victory over the Rams would keep Seattle alone atop the NFC West standings.

The Packers lost, meaning Seattle must win in St. Louis to reclaim top billing in the division. And yet all was not lost. For the first in a month, Hasselbeck wasn't subject to getting hit. "That was probably the best thing about Sunday," Hasselbeck said. "Sitting on my couch and watching other guys get hit, and feeling good Monday morning. But at the same time, I'm happy to be back."

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Jerramy Stevens returned Monday from knee surgery. He could play Sunday after missing the first four games. Stevens' return will allow the Seahawks to run more of their "bread-and-butter" plays, as coach Mike Holmgren has put it. Seattle became more of a four-wide team without Stevens.

--WR Bobby Engram missed practice Monday because he was feeling under the weather. Coach Mike Holmgren said Engram would see a doctor before practice resumes Wednesday. Engram watched practice from the sideline Monday.

--LB D.D. Lewis has a turf-toe injury that kept him out of practice Monday. Lewis was wearing a walking boot as he watched practice. He might not play against the Rams on Sunday.

--DT Marcus Tubbs was back on the practice field Monday for the first time since undergoing knee surgery. Tubbs returned a little faster than expected. Coach Mike Holmgren called his return a "pleasant surprise" as the Seahawks began on-field preparations for the Rams.

--DE Joe Tafoya missed practice again Monday and might not play against the Rams. He has a knee injury.

--SS Michael Boulware was back on the field Monday for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Rams in Week 4.

--CB Jordan Babineaux was back on the field Monday for the first time since suffering a concussion against the Giants in Week 3.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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The Cardinals offense, already struggling, was dealt another blow Sunday when receiver Larry Fitzgerald suffered a pulled right hamstring. He's expected to miss two to five weeks, and it's more likely to be closer to five than two. "Obviously, any time you take a Pro Bowl player out of your lineup, it makes a difference," coach Dennis Green said.

His injury leaves the Cardinals short on receivers. They had been carrying only four, but Carlyle Holiday will be promoted from the practice squad this week. It's likely that Bryant Johnson will move into Fitzgerald's starting role, with Troy Walters take over the third receiver spot.

But Johnson isn't high on Green's list right now. Johnson dropped a pass in the end zone last week against Kansas City that would have put the Cardinals ahead, 27-10, late in the third quarter. Kansas City would have had a tough time coming back from that deficit.

Green has mentioned the play several times in the past few days. On Monday, he didn't commit to promoting Johnson to the starting lineup, saying that decision will be made in the coming days.
It would be a mistake, however, to make Johnson keep paying for the drop. He's been effective in a limited role this season, catching 10 passes for 227 yards, a 22.7 average. He's been the team's main deep threat, catching passes for 40 and 54 yards.

NOTES, QUOTES

--RB Edgerrin James is making a weekly ritual of complaining about his lack of carries late in games. Last Sunday, he was upset that he carried just four times in the fourth quarter. "We just got away from the run," said James, who gained 71 yards on 24 carries. "That's the stupidest thing. You have to be able to finish the game. You got to give us a chance, you know."

--QB Matt Leinart played an efficient game, passing for two touchdowns. He made two bad decisions. One resulted in an interception by Ty Law, and the other resulted in a sack that took the club out of field goal range. "I've just got to get better," he said. "I think I made some plays, but I have to get rid of the ball quicker. Check the ball down and manage the clock. I felt pretty comfortable out there most of the game."

Some of the Cardinals watched part of the first half of the Bears blowout victory over the Bills last Sunday. They came away impressed with the Bears, their opponent Monday night. "Man, they look really good," cornerback Eric Green said. "Every part of their game. We're going to have to really step up and defend our house. If not, they're going to do the same thing you saw on TV. We can't back down, we can't put our tail between our legs. We have to stand up and play like men, play like it's our job.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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Rams coach Scott Linehan likes to say that teams often create their own luck, that hard work and fighting until the end will often lead to good results. Linehan's words have rung true after five weeks, as a team that was 6-10 last season is now 4-1, in first place in the NFC West, having won three straight games with the outcome undecided until the final seconds.

Two consecutive road wins, over Arizona and Sunday over Green Bay, occurred when the opposing quarterback lost a fumble deep in Rams territory with the game on the line. The latest was a 23-20 victory that wasn't secured until defensive end Leonard Little stripped the ball from Brett Favre on a play that started at the Rams' 11-yard line, with cornerback Jerametrius Butler recovering for the Rams.

"We have had some emotional roller-coaster type games and they are all like that in this league and we just have to hang in there and play every play," Linehan said. "Fortunately for us, we have been able to come out on the better end."

Wide receiver Torry Holt, talking about the ending, said, "That was just hustle. That was just will -- something that coach speaks about. We knew it was going to come down to who was going to be strong-willed late in the game." Little had three IVs during the game, and prior to the forced fumble, defensive coordinator said, "When are you going to do something?" And Little did.

"This team always fights," he said. "That's the difference between this team and the teams of the past. We're fighting 'till the very end. Today is another example of that. Arizona was an example of that. Last week (Detroit) was an example of that.

"Every week in this league, it comes down to which team makes that play and which team doesn't. Is it going to happen to us every week? I don't know. But it did today, so I ain't complaining." Now, the Rams will prepare to play Seattle at home Sunday. The division rival was in the Super Bowl last season, is 3-1, and coming off their bye. A win by the Rams would give them a lead of 1 1/2 games.

"This will be a good challenge for out football team," said defensive coordinator Jim Haslett. "We'll see where we're at as a football team." Said Holt, "I'm a results kind of guy, and I've played in enough big games and won enough championships to know that after only five games you don't start celebrating anything just yet. I want to see how this plays out at the end of the story. But right now, I like what I see."

NOTES, QUOTES

--After a slow start, QB Marc Bulger has been consistent over the last three games. Bulger is currently fifth in the NFL with a 97.2 passer rating, and is also fifth with a fourth-quarter rating of 95.2
Most important, Bulger has yet to throw an interception this season in 169 attempts. Overall, he has 214 consecutive attempts without an interception, setting a team record Sunday. He is 94 short of the NFL record set by former Browns quarterback Bernie Kosar.

Ironically, he tied the club record of 206 on a pass that was nearly intercepted by Packers cornerback Al Harris. "You're going to have to be fortunate to do it," Bulger said. "Obviously, you can throw good balls and have a good streak. But I could've had a couple interceptions here and there. I don't want to start worrying about not throwing interceptions, because I'll lose that aggressiveness." Said coach Scott Linehan of Bulger, "Marc's playing smart. He's been good with the ball. He's directing our running game. He's managing the clock. I'm just really happy with him."

--A former starter, cornerback Jerametrius Butler was inactive for the first four games of the season. With Travis Fisher and Fakhir Brown starting, rookie Tye Hill as the third corner, and versatile cornerback/safety Ron Bartell the better special teams player, there wasn't room for Butler on the game-day roster. But with Brown inactive Sunday because of an ankle injury, Butler was active. Then, he got on the field when Fisher strained a groin and Bartell suffered from a calf injury brought on by cramping.

So it was that Butler recovered the Brett Favre fumble in the final minute that sealed the win for the Rams. "I felt comfortable," said Butler. "Favre's still the guy. If you give him time, he'll kill you. We did a pretty good job. We didn't have any interceptions, but we had a key turnover toward the end."

--Because of the injuries in the secondary, defensive coordinator Jim Haslett dialed up fewer blitzes, and at times didn't even know who was on the field. Strong safety Corey Chavous played nickel back at times, covering the slot receiver. Safety Jerome Carter also played extensively as a fifth defensive back.

Rookie Tye Hill made his first start with Fakhir Brown inactive, and did well most of the game. But Hill was beat for two long passes, including a 45-yard touchdown to Greg Jennings. "It was the first time he has been on the field for 65-70 plays," defensive coordinator Jim Haslett said. "He was good on 64, but everyone sees the mistakes. But he'll be fine." The Packers ran 67 plays

PLAYER NOTES

--CB Travis Fisher will have an MRI on the groin he strained Sunday against Green Bay. Fisher's groin was bothering him in practice last week.

--CB Fakhir Brown, who was inactive for Sunday's game against Green Bay because of an ankle injury, will be evaluated on a day-to-day basis this week.

--OT Orlando Pace was fine after Sunday's game and isn't expected to have any limitations in practice this week as he appears totally recovered from a Sept. 17 concussion.

--FB Paul Smith is still being looked at by specialists because of an eye injury suffered in a collision on special teams against Detroit Oct. 1.

--TE Dominique Byrd was active for the first time this season because of the absence of FB Paul Smith. Byrd was available as an H-back, but wasn't needed very often.

--S Jerome Carter has been seeing more and more time in nickel situations, and is improving from his rookie season.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers certainly know they have a lot of room for improvement. Their 34-20 victory over the Raiders, was a step in the right direction because they defeated a team they should have handled. "A win gives us a lot more hope for where we're heading," 49ers coach Mike Nolan said. "A win builds confidence. It's hard to say where we are, because I know who we played. But a win is a win."

The 49ers (2-3) made plenty of mistakes in their victory over the Raiders, but the Raiders outdid the 49ers in that area. The 49ers blocked a punt, came up with four interceptions and returned a backward pass for a touchdown.

A cynic could look at everything good the 49ers accomplished against the Raiders and determine those plays happened because of Raiders mistakes and not because of anything the 49ers did.
Raiders quarterbacks Andrew Walter and Marques Tuiasosopo made several ill-advised throws or passes that were badly off target that resulted interceptions. When Walter's backward pass fell to the ground, the Raiders did not try to recover the ball. Niners rookie defensive end Melvin Oliver grabbed the ball and trotted 12 yards into the end zone for a touchdown.

"I have a different opinion," Nolan said of the 49ers not earning the turnovers. "In the past we've had a lot of those balls fall short and nobody was there to get them. Being in the right place is really important.

"It's like a win. There's no ugly win in the NFL. When you win, that's a good thing. I don't care if you're undefeated or not. The same thing with a turnover, you can look at it a lot of different ways. None of the teams that intercepted Alex last year (apologized)."

NOTES, QUOTES

--Niners offensive coordinator Norv Turner received a game ball in the locker room following his new team's 34-20 victory over his former team. Turner was head coach of the Raiders for two seasons before getting fired after last season. Turner downplayed any personal feelings about playing the Raiders when he spoke to the media during the week and again after the game. But he showed how much it meant to him in the locker room when he spiked the ball in the privacy of the 49ers' locker room to the boisterous cheers of 49ers players and staff.

"I have been doing it a long time, and I know it's not about me," Turner said. Said 49ers coach Mike Nolan, "(If) you're playing your old team, you want to beat them. It's that simple."

--Rookie outside linebacker Manny Lawson has not provided much help with the pass rush, but he was turned loose on a third-quarter special-teams play and blocked Shane Lechler's punt. The play gave the 49ers possession at the Raiders' 9. Three plays later, 49ers quarterback Alex Smith found receiver Arnaz Battle on a 6-yard touchdown pass. It was the second scoring connection for them on the day.
"For the offense to punch it in like that, that pretty much shot a dagger straight through their heart," said Lawson, who blocked seven punts during his career at North Carolina State.

--Veteran cornerback Walt Harris has been the 49ers' best offseason acquisition through the first five games. Last week, Harris was selected as one of the 49ers' captains for the entire season.
On Sunday, he responded with his first three-interception game of his career. "After you get the first one, you just expect to get the others," Harris said.

The 49ers had not recorded an interception this season prior to Harris' third-quarter pick of Raiders quarterback Andrew Walter. The 49ers' four interceptions were the most for the organization since 2001, when they had four in a 38-0 win over New Orleans.

--Rookie defensive end Melvin Oliver scored his first TD at any level when he picked up a backward pass that the Raiders did not go after. Oliver ran 12 yards into the end zone. On Monday, he had the ball in his locker. He said he received between 400 and 500 phone calls, messages and emails from friends and family.

PLAYER NOTES

--LT Jonas Jennings underwent surgery Monday morning to repair a finger ligament on his left hand. Jennings left Sunday's game with a wrist injury. He is expected to be ready to return to the lineup Sunday against the Chargers.

--LG Larry Allen is hopeful to return to action this week. He has missed all but the first six plays of the season with a left knee sprain. Allen is expected to practice Wednesday. If he is unable to play this week, he almost certainly will be available Oct. 29 against the Bears, the 49ers' first game after the bye.

--WR Antonio Bryant received stitches after sustaining a cut lip after securing an onside kick. He was leveled by Raiders RB Justin Fargas as he caught the loose ball.

--RB Frank Gore leads the league in rushing with 465 yards on 102 carries. He has a 4.6-yard average. Gore has also caught a team-high 19 passes for 167 yards.

--LB Manny Lawson, a first-round draft pick who came to the 49ers with the reputation as a pass-rusher, played most first and second downs on Sunday. Coach Mike Nolan said Lawson is much better than anyone else the 49ers have for those base downs, and they don't want to get him some rest on third downs.


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