NFC West News & Notes - 10/1/07

The Seahawks get to celebrate the win over San Francisco, which reaffirmed their control of the division they've won for three seasons, by having to spend this week being incessantly reminded of their loss in Super Bowl XL. Sunday marks the first meeting of the Seahawks and the Steelers since the February 2006 game in Detroit.


The Steelers won that one, 21-10, although Seattle fans continue to debate and dispute the outcome, certain that the officials conspired to deny the Seahawks.

In that one, receiver Darrell Jackson was called for a controversial pushing-off penalty in the end zone that nullified an early touchdown. Jackson was in action for the 49ers Sunday against the team that traded him in the offseason for a fourth-round draft pick.

The Seahawks defense did a solid job of shutting down Jackson (three catches, 38 yards) and all the other 49ers during a 23-3 win. The Seahawks came up with six sacks and put San Francisco quarterback Alex Smith out of the game with a sack on the first 49er possession.

"We realized over the past year or so we've not been playing too well on the road," said linebacker Julian Peterson, who destroyed the 49ers with three sacks and two forced fumbles. "We've been starting out very sluggish and slow. Because this was a division game, and both teams were 2-1, we had to come out fast. We felt like we gave up that Arizona game because we didn't come out with enough intensity. Today, we came out with a lot of fire."

The approach that worked against San Francisco could be effective against the run-oriented Steelers. The Seahawks put eight men near the line of scrimmage and gap-blitzed heavily. Perhaps more important, the Seahawks played with more emotion than they'd showed in the previous four divisional games they've played -- dating back to last fall -- all of which they'd lost.

"I told the guys, you need to play with your heart," linebacker Lofa Tatupu said. "The fundamental things will happen, but if you want to stop the run, if you're intense, then strap on the helmet and get after somebody."

Offensively, the Seahawks will give the Steelers much to consider. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck was nearly flawless, passing for 281 yards with completions in 23 of 31 attempts. Receiver Deion Branch, meanwhile, is continuing his strong season with 130 yards on seven catches.

One facet of the Seahawks offense the Steelers will need to deal with is the addition of Seneca Wallace to the receiving corps. The backup quarterback has seen very limited spot duty in the past, but against San Francisco, Wallace caught a deep pass, ran an end-around for a yard loss and then threw an incomplete pass on an end-around.

Wallace's production is secondary to the demands it places on the opposing defense to spend practice time preparing for him.


--RB Maurice Morris, whose status during the week was in doubt because he practiced sporadically, was active for the San Francisco game.
--QB Seneca Wallace was used for the first time this season as a receiver. He had one catch for 18 yards and threw an incompletion on an end-around pass.
--RB Alvin Pearman suffered a knee injury of unknown severity.
--RB Shaun Alexander, playing with a cast to protect his injured left wrist, picked up 78 yards on 25 carries against San Francisco.
--OT Ray Willis injured his knee while blocking on a kickoff return. His status will be evaluated during the week.


In contrast to past years, the Cardinals didn't bury themselves in the first month of the season. In fact, things are set up for them to make a little run, if they can take advantage of the opportunities. The victory last Sunday over the Steelers evened the Cardinals' record at 2-2. With a game Sunday against the 0-4 Rams and at home the following week against Carolina, the Cardinals could be on the upswing.

It's clear this team has built its confidence over the first month, even with losses at San Francisco and Baltimore. That's a stark contrast from the past, when the first month of the season usually brought at least three losses.

"I think we definitely have a team now," said strong safety Adrian Wilson. "Everyone believes in what we are doing. Once everyone starts to believe in what you are doing there is not telling what a team can do."

The Cardinals are 2-0 at home, and the crowd at University of Phoenix Stadium has given the team an advantage. There have been 14 straight sellouts there, and the crowds have been pro-Cardinals, something that wasn't always true at Sun Devil Stadium.

The crowd was a factor in both home games this season, with opponents having trouble calling their signals.

"I'm excited we stepped up and made some plays, and that got our crowd involved," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.

Whisenhunt has helped, too. He has proven to be a bold play-caller who is not afraid to take chances to give his team the best opportunity to win. He has gone to a two-quarterback system, with Kurt Warner operating the no-huddle. Last Sunday against Pittsburgh, he put Matt Leinart back in the game late and Leinart made several key throws on the final touchdown drive.

Whisenhunt decided to go for it on fourth-and-inches from the Steelers 24. The Cardinals made it and ultimately scored a touchdown, rather than settle for a field goal. "We had talked about responding to situations that aren't going your way," Whisenhunt said. "We did that I think in Baltimore and it made us a little stronger."

Whisenhunt knows he's in a danger zone with his quarterback situation, but he continues to handle it deftly. By putting Leinart back in the game late last week, he bolstered the quarterback's confidence and staved off a quarterback controversy.

Leinart remains the starter but Warner is going to play.

"I'd be lying if I said it is easy to handle because we're all competitors," Leinart said. "I think this situation, truly, is making me a better football player. It's only going to help me throughout my career."


--RS-WR Steve Breaston's 73-yard punt return for a touchdown was the team's first since Johnny Bailey did it in 1993. Breaston, a fifth-round pick out of Michigan, was taken because of his return skills and he hasn't disappointed.
--WR Anquan Boldin (hip) is expected to return this week after missing last week's game with a hip injury. Larry Fitzgerald picked up the slack, catching 11 passes for 123 yards.
--C Al Johnson returned to the starting lineup after missing two games with a sprained knee.
--DE Darnell Dockett leads the team with 5.5 sacks. He had three sacks against the Steelers and seems to have found a home at left end.
--The Cardinals picked off their first two passes of the year. SS Adrian Wilson intercepted Ben Roethlisberger in the end zone, and Ralph Brown's pick came with six seconds remaining.


Just when the Rams thought things couldn't get any worse, they did. After falling to 0-4 after a 35-7 loss to Dallas Sunday, the Rams will now play host to division rival host Arizona, a team that comes to town with former standout Kurt Warner contributing to the Cardinals' success.

The Rams are floundering on offense, and haven't scored an offensive touchdown since the first quarter of a Week 2 loss to San Francisco. Quarterback Marc Bulger, playing with two broken ribs, has had the second- and third-worst passer ratings of his career the last two games: 35.6 against Tampa Bay in Week 3 and 42.7 Sunday against Dallas.

In those two games, Bulger has completed 28 of 50 passes for 230 yards and four interceptions.

Yet, coach Scott Linehan insists Bulger is healthy enough to play and despite replacing him with Gus Frerotte in the third quarter against Dallas, Linehan said after the game Bulger will start against Arizona.
Many don't believe that's the right decision. After watching Bulger look shaky on several throws and appear affected by the chaos on the team's offensive line, Fox analyst Troy Aikman strongly suggested

Frerotte should play, and wondered, "Why can't they (Rams coaches) see what we see?"

Bulger didn't seem disappointed by being taken out of the game and intimated he would understand if a change was made at this time.

"If (coach) says we need a spark to help the team win, then that's what I want to do," Bulger said. "I'll do whatever it takes for the Rams to win. I don't want to speak for the coach. But if he feels like we need something to get going, then I'm on board. I'll do anything to get our offense going."

A healthy offensive line would help, but that seems impossible at this point. When starting right tackle Adam Goldberg went down with a knee injury in the third quarter, he was replaced by Brandon Gorin, who was signed by the Rams on Sept. 12. Gorin is already the fourth right tackle to play this season and the Rams have yet to finish the game with the same five offensive linemen that started the game.

The fear is that Goldberg might be lost for the season. If he is, he would join left tackle Orlando Pace, left guard Mark Setterstrom and backup tackle/guard Todd Steussie. In addition, right guard Richie Incognito has yet to play because of a high ankle sprain suffered Aug. 18. There is hope he will play against the Cardinals, which would be another different line combination.

Said defensive end Leonard Little, "We're the walking wounded right now. There are a lot of injuries. This is the NFL. Second-team guys have to step up and make plays."

Added kick returner Dante Hall, who accounted for the team's only touchdown against Dallas and who had 262 return yards to the team's 187 offensive yards, "It's coaching, it's players, it's execution, it's everyone. Not to make excuses, but injuries are killing us right now. They are taking our swagger away right now. I've never played where every week it seems like we're losing someone."


--RT Adam Goldberg left the game in the third quarter with a MCL injury to his left knee. He was to have tests Monday, but there was concern he could be lost for the season.
--WR Isaac Bruce had one reception for 24 yards, but was then sidelined by a strained hamstring.
--DE Leonard Little suffered a sprained knee against Dallas and was scheduled for an MRI Monday.
--WR Dane Looker, who is also the holder for PK Jeff Wilkins, suffered a serious thigh bruise against the Cowboys. There was so much bleeding that Looker did not return to St. Louis with the team and remained overnight in Dallas.
--SS Corey Chavous suffered an injury to his pectoral muscle against Dallas.
--LB Raonall Smith suffered a sprained knee against the Cowboys and was to be further evaluated on Monday.


The San Francisco 49ers' offense is in a sorry state as it enters this week's game against the Baltimore Ravens. The 49ers own the league's worst offense through the first four games of the season. They have failed to record at least 200 yards of total offense in three of the team's first four games.

Moreover, the 49ers will be without their starting quarterback. Alex Smith, the No. 1 overall pick of the 2005 draft, is out indefinitely with a separated right shoulder. His replacement is Trent Dilfer, 35, who did not take a snap last season as Smith's backup. Dilfer came to the 49ers in a trade last year to serve as Smith's mentor. His first start will come against the team that dumped him after being the Super Bowl-winning quarterback in 2000.

"It's hard because it's like seeing your little brother go down," Dilfer said of Smith's injury. "I feel badly for him, but at the same time there is no time for sympathy in this league."

Dilfer's relief stint did not go smoothly when he came off the sideline in the first quarter of the 49ers' 23-3 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. Dilfer completed just 12 of 33 passing attempts for 128 yards with two interceptions.

The biggest problem was up front, as the offensive line struggled to get obvious pass-rushers blocked. On several occasions, Seahawks defenders had a direct route to the quarterback. The 49ers surrendered six sacks.

"Our coaching staff had us well-prepared," 49ers guard Justin Smiley said. "Did we execute? Obviously not." First-year offensive coordinator Jim Hostler has gotten his share of criticism the first four weeks of the season. The 49ers ranked 26th in total offense last season and figured to make a significant improvement.

Hostler, however, has the support of head coach Mike Nolan and the 49ers' players.

"I don't question the game plan," Nolan said. "We just got to execute better."

Said Dilfer, "I feel badly for Jim Hostler because he has done a fabulous job. It's probably the cleanest offense I've ever been in, in terms of organization. The play-calling is fine. I've been around bad play-calling. This is not bad play-calling. This is bad execution."

Even running back Frank Gore, who rushed for 1,695 yards last season, has struggled. He fumbled on two of his first four carries against the Seahawks. One fumble was a turnover; he recovered the other.
Gore has gained just 254 yards on 68 carries (3.7-yard average) through the first four games. Nothing is going right for the 49ers' offense, which will also be playing without tight end Vernon Davis due to a knee injury.

"In 14 years in this league, I've seen very little carry over from one game to the next," Dilfer said. "Just because we were bad last week doesn't mean will be bad this week."


--QB Alex Smith is out indefinitely with a right shoulder separation. Last season, he was the first quarterback in 49ers history to take every snap from scrimmage. Before the injury, he was off to a slow start, completing just 51.2 percent of his passes with one touchdown and one interception. Smith's passer rating is 66.6.
--RB Frank Gore has rushed for 254 yards on 68 carries. He fumbled twice on Sunday. One was a turnover and he recovered the other. Gore admitted that he has been pressing, as his frustration has gotten the better of him. He rushed for 1,695 yards last season, and set a goal of rushing for more than 2,000 yards. Gore caught four passes for 42 yards.
--QB Trent Dilfer saw his first game action since 2005 when he entered in place of injured Alex Smith on Sunday against the Seahawks. Dilfer completed 12 of 33 passes for 128 yards with two interceptions. He made several other ill-advised throws that could have been intercepted.
--WR Darrell Jackson had a quiet game against his former team. Jackson had three catches for 38 yards. Jackson has a team-leading 14 receptions for 204 yards.
--PR Michael Lewis had six punt returns for 63 yards, a 10.5-yard average in his first game with the 49ers. The 49ers signed Lewis as a free agent to take the place of unproductive Brandon Williams.
--WR Arnaz Battle caught three passes for 19 yards, as he continues to struggle to produce. The usually sure-handed Battle dropped a pass early in the game. Top Stories