NFC West News & Notes - 10/16/06

In today's News & Notes: Seattle beats the Rams in a crucial division match, the 49ers regress to 2005 form, and Arizona prepares for what could be an ugly beatdown on Monday night against the NFL's best team.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The Seahawks might have saved their season with an improbable 30-28 victory over the Rams at the Edward Jones Dome. "This was huge for us," coach Mike Holmgren said.

A year ago, the Seahawks took a 2-2 record to St. Louis and emerged with the first victory in a 10-game streak that delivered home-field advantage to Seattle. The Seahawks were 3-1 this time, but they trailed the 4-1 Rams and Seattle needed a boost after falling hard against Chicago in its previous game. The boost came in the form of a rejuvenated passing attack. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck tossed three touchdown passes without an interception as Seattle overcame a 21-7 halftime deficit. The Seahawks used some halftime adjustments in blitz pickup to exploit the Rams' shaky pass defense in the second half.

The emergence of receiver Deion Branch was exactly what the Seahawks needed. Branch hadn't done much since Seattle acquired him from the Patriots last month. But with a team-high six catches and two touchdowns, Branch served notice that he is ready to contribute.

Seattle needs all the offensive weapons it can muster. Running back Shaun Alexander will miss at least one more game with a broken foot. Penalties and assignment mistakes continue to trouble left guard Chris Spencer, who has much to learn after only three starts. And the defense continues to give up too many long pass plays. So, while the victory over the Rams was needed, the Seahawks aren't in celebration mode just yet.

"We're where we wanted to be at this point in the season," center Robbie Tobeck said. "We're in first place in our division and we just got to keep playing, week in and week out.

"We can't say, 'OK, now we're back.' Because if we do that, we'll be back to the same place. You gotta keep working. You gotta always find what you did wrong, be accountable and try to get better." The Seahawks have not flashed the Super Bowl form of last season, but they showed poise in St. Louis. It was needed, too, after the Rams took a 28-27 lead with a 67-yard touchdown pass in the final two minutes.

The scoring pass came shortly after Alexander's replacement, Maurice Morris, lost a fumble at the Rams' 7-yard-line. "When we fumbled, (quarterbacks coach) Jim Zorn called me on the phone and we started going over our two-minute scenarios, started going over their two-minute tendencies," Hasselbeck said. "He was very focused. He was very prepared on us getting the ball back.

"Not that we didn't have faith in our defense, but I think that's the amount of respect that we have for their offense and how explosive Marc Bulger and Torry Holt and those guys are. We were talking that whole time about our two-minute offense with no timeouts and what we might have to do to give ourselves a chance to win the game."

The Seahawks' victory restored order in the NFC West. Seattle affirmed its status as the team to beat.

PLAYER NOTES

--TE Jerramy Stevens was a late scratch Sunday because his surgically repaired knee didn't feel right, coach Mike Holmgren said. The Seahawks expect Stevens to be ready next week.

--WR Nate Burleson did not have a catch against the Rams even though Seattle attempted 34 passes. He has seven catches in five games and recently lost his starting job to Deion Branch.

--CB Jimmy Williams left the St. Louis game with an apparent injury, leaving WR Nate Burleson to return punts late in the game. Williams is apparently OK, however. He merely had the wind knocked out of him, coach Mike Holmgren said.

--RB Shaun Alexander will miss at least one more game with a broken foot. The team could have Alexander back for its Oct. 29 game.

--WR Deion Branch caught six passes for 76 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. This was a breakout performance for the player Seattle acquired from New England last month. Branch has taken over the starting job at split end and that's where he'll remain.


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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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If the Cardinals are going to salvage anything out of this season, they have to start now. They are entering the softest part of their schedule, with games against Oakland, Green Bay and Detroit in the next month.
Since the NFL schedule came out last spring, coach Dennis Green emphasized a strong start, noting that for the first time in Arizona history, the Cardinals were playing two of their first three and four of their first six at home.

The club failed to capitalize, mostly because of offensive woes that have yet to be corrected. The running game has been inconsistent, the pass protection weak, and there have been far too many turnovers. Running back Edgerrin James, signed as a free agent last spring, has expressed frustration with the team's play-calling, but he's getting the ball enough. The problem is, he hasn't had much room to do anything with it.

James knows he and the offensive line must produce more if he's going to get the ball in clutch situations. "I just got to make use of what I get," James said. "I've come to that conclusion. Just to make use of what I get and whatever happens, just roll with it because talking about it is not going to do anything."

James hasn't been alone in his desire for more running plays. Green has said he wants more, and rookie quarterback Matt Leinart has joined the chorus. That puts the heat on offensive coordinator Keith Rowen. He would like to run more, too, but when you're calling plays that go nowhere, do you just stick with it?

James understands the dilemma and has talked to his offensive linemen about it. "That's one thing I was telling the offensive line, we can't say we want to do something and then we don't hold up our end of the bargain," James said. "There is a lot that goes with it. When you do (run) and you get tackled for losses, that kind of kills the spirit. That's one thing we have to take upon ourselves and say, 'OK, when the opportunity comes, we have to make something happen if we want to run the ball.'"

Team officials think the franchise is on the verge of success. They point to the fact that most of its key young players are under contract for several more years. The latest to join that group is defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who signed a contract extension this week that will pay him about $22 million over five years. Dockett said his new deal is more evidence that the team is headed in the right direction.

"A lot of people talk about the Cardinals: 'They're cheap. They don't want to spend money,'" Dockett said. "I'm a true believer that is not true, and hopefully, they'll keep guys around here who want to win and get more guys who want to win."

The club has done a nice job of securing its young players for years to come, but at some point those players have to play well enough to produce wins. That's obviously not happened yet.

"We have a group of young players, the (Matt) Leinarts of the world, Adrian Wilson, Anquan Boldin, all of those young guys are going to be Arizona Cardinals for a long time," Green said, "and they're some of the best players in the game."

PLAYER NOTES

--WR Larry Fitzgerald's sore right hamstring improved steadily during his week off. He thinks he could play against Oakland, but that remains questionable.

--OG Deuce Lutui will continue to get more playing time, especially with right guard Milford Brown hobbling because of an ankle injury. Lutui is an excellent run blocker who needs to refine his pass protection skills.

--OLB Karlos Dansby has returned to the starting lineup, replacing Calvin Pace on the strong side. Dansby missed all of training camp with a toe injury and had been serving as Pace's backup.

--K Neil Rackers already has missed more field goals than he did all of last year when he went 40 of 42. But he still remains of the league's best kickers. He's being asked to kick too many 50-plus yarders.

--FS Aaron Francisco is going to be an impact player in the future for this club. He already excels on special teams, and he'll likely take over the starting job next year from Robert Griffith, whose contract will be up.


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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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As the Rams enter their bye week, and begin planning for their Oct. 29 game at San Diego, they will continue thinking about an opportunity that got away after a last-second 30-28 loss to Seattle on Sunday. Running back Steven Jackson said any loss is tough to swallow, but losing going into the bye is doubly bad.

"I think it's worse," he said. "You have two weeks to sit on it and think about the game. It was a tough one out there and you really hate to lose ones like this in the last seconds." Said defensive tackle La'Roi Glover, "It doesn't really matter. It is what it is. With the bye we can let some guys heal up and get healthy and come on to win later."

Against the Chargers, the Rams will be facing a 3-4 defense, which could create some protection issues. Quarterback Marc Bulger was sacked six times against Seattle, and several came when the Seahawks sent only three pass rushers. The strength of Seattle's bull rush also presented some problems for the Rams.

"We have too high of a sack number right now," coach Scott Linehan said of the 19 times Bulger has been sacked in six games. "We don't want to give away any, but for them to get us in a three-man rush is not good. That is a team goal that we have to work hard on, whether it is a certain type of scheme or throwing the ball and the type of routes that we are calling, maybe get the ball out a little quicker."

Defensively, the Rams will hope to have cornerback Fakhir Brown back for the game against the Chargers. Brown has missed two games with an ankle injury near his heel, and his absence has caused some problems in the secondary. It has forced rookie Tye Hill into being a starter, and also resulted in strong safety Corey Chavous playing as a nickel and dime back because coaches have lost confidence in cornerback Jerametrius Butler.

With cornerback Travis Fisher nursing a groin injury, the Rams had safety Dwaine Carpenter active for the game against Seattle as insurance in the secondary. The tradeoff was that kickoff returner J.R. Reed was inactive and wide receiver Kevin Curtis returned kickoffs. Curtis fumbled at the start of the fourth quarter, which led to a go-ahead touchdown. Still, defensive problems can't be sugar-coated. In their last two home games, the Rams allowed 34 points to Detroit and 30 to Seattle. Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck passed for 177 yards in the second half Sunday after the Rams had taken a 21-7 lead.

When the Rams took a 28-27 lead with 1:44 remaining following a dramatic 67-yard pass play from Bulger to wide receiver Torry Holt, Hasselbeck hit a wide open D.J. Hackett and Darrell Jackson for 14 and 19 yards to midfield, setting the stage for Josh Brown's 54-yard game-winning field goal. Both Hackett (22.0) and Jackson (23.5) averaged more than 20 yards per reception, and they can't allow that to happen against San Diego.

Concluded defensive tackle Jimmy Kennedy, "It's still a shock with them pulling it out in the end. I don't think anybody is really going to rest on this bye week. It's hard to take a loss especially with the new attitude and this new defensive team. I'm sure everyone is going to take this personally. We'll make some adjustments and move on to the next team."

PLAYER NOTES

--FB Madison Hedgecock suffered a broken thumb against Seattle but continued playing. It will probably be put in a cast, but might not cost him any playing time.

--CB Fakhir Brown was inactive for the second consecutive game because of and ankle injury that is very close to the heel and caused persistent discomfort.

--S Dwaine Carpenter, released by the Rams when LB Isaiah Kacyvenski was signed Oct. 3, was re-signed Oct. 11 and was active for the game against Seattle. It was the first game this season in which he was active.

--DE Anthony Hargrove was inactive against the Seahawks. Hargrove was inactive against Arizona Sept. 24 after missing two days of practice and meetings without informing the coaching staff. Hargrove was a no-show on the Thursday before that game and didn't make contact with coach Scott Linehan until about 4 p.m. Linehan told Hargrove to be at Rams Park for a 6 p.m. meeting, and he again was a no-show. The next day he arrived during practice, and met with Linehan briefly after practice. After a Monday meeting Sept. 25, Hargrove was reinstated and was active for the next two games. There have been rumblings that the Rams were trying to trade Hargrove by the Oct. 17 deadline, but receiving minimal interest.

--WR Kevin Curtis returned kickoffs against Seattle because the usual kickoff returner, J.R. Reed, was inactive. Curtis returned four kickoffs for 88 yards, and had a costly fumble that led to a Seattle touchdown early in the fourth quarter.


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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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The 49ers have a much-needed bye week to try to get things right against the Bears on October 29. That game looms as perhaps the most difficult challenge facing the team for the remainder of the season. But after compiling a 2-4 record, coach Mike Nolan said there is reason to believe that the better things could be coming.

"Naturally, we've got some things we need to work on," Nolan said. "We're not where we want to be, but I really believe we've got some winnable games. Chicago, our next opponent, is a good opponent. We played pretty well against them last year at their place. We will see how we feel this year, but we are looking forward to that contest."

The 49ers certainly have a lot of problems on defense that were exposed in their 48-19 loss to the Chargers on Sunday. The 49ers played poorly individually and collectively, and had a few mental mistakes to make matters even worse.

When asked afterward if the defense needed a restructuring, Nolan answered, "That's a good way to put it." But the restructuring appears to have already started. Strong safety Mark Roman received his first start in place of nine-year veteran Tony Parrish, and second-year player Ronald Fields got the start at nose tackle in place of Anthony Adams.

"As much as I know some of our shortcomings going into it, I know that when you play well as a unit, you can play better than we have a couple times," Nolan said. "That's the disappointing thing. When you play together, you don't have to be that poor, in particular, whether it's the pass rush or pass defense." Nolan said the 49ers are playing comparably to where they were a year ago at this time. The 49ers ranked last in the league in team defense. This year, the 49ers' defense has seemingly gotten worse every week after a promising start.

The 49ers were particularly horrendous against the Chargers, who rolled up 412 yards and converted 12 of 15 (80 percent) on third downs. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers threw for 334 yards and two touchdowns, with a passer rating of 116.8, in just his fifth NFL start.

"It's nothing they did. It's all on us," Roman said. "We got to play better individually and as a unit. We got to get off the field on third downs. It's no secret. There's no magic serum. There are no magic words. We just got to do it."

After the bye week, the 49ers expect to have most of their injured starters back on the field. Rookie tight end Vernon Davis (broken leg) is expected to miss another couple games, but left guard Larry Allen, left tackle Jonas Jennings and cornerback Walt Harris should be available to face the Bears.

Although backups Adam Snyder and Tony Wragge have played well on the offensive line, the 49ers are looking forward to Allen and Jennings returning. "Obviously, if we can get two guys of their caliber back, it would be a big help no matter way," quarterback Alex Smith said. "We have a lot of depth up front and those guys have been preparing well."

PLAYER NOTES

--RB Frank Gore did not get many touches but still managed to put up some respectable numbers. Gore gained 55 yards on 10 carries, while also catching five passes for 35 yards.

--WR Bryan Gilmore was used on two reverses. Gilmore gained 22 yards on his first carry, but fumbled at the end of a 9-yard run in the second half against the Chargers.

--RT Kwame Harris was called for three penalties and also surrendered at least one sack to Chargers LB Shaun Phillips. Coach Mike Nolan said he would not make any decisions on personnel until after he watched the game film. Harris' job might be in jeopardy once the 49ers' injured offensive linemen return, which would free up Adam Snyder to compete with Harris.

--QB Alex Smith had his second multi-TD game in a row. Smith completed 20 of 31 passes for 214 yards with two TDs and one interception. He was also sacked five times for minus-32 yards.

--NT Ronald Fields made his first career start and recorded a career-high five tackles. He was also responsible for a safety when Chargers QB Philip Rivers was called for intentional grounding while in Fields' grasp in the end zone.

--CB Sammy Davis received his first start with the 49ers in place of Walt Harris, who was sidelined with a hamstring strain. Davis was called for a questionable pass-interference penalty, resulting in 41 yards.

--SS Tony Parrish did not start, as Mark Roman got his first nod of the season. Parrish had previously started all 126 regular-season game of his nine-year career.


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