NFC West News & Notes - 10/29/07

One of the biggest points of discussion for the Seattle Seahawks in training camp was which receiver was going to replace Darrell Jackson as Matt Hasselbeck's No. 1 option. Jackson was traded to the San Francisco 49ers for a fourth-round pick even though he caught more touchdown passes than any other receiver.

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SEATTLE SEAHAWKS
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The answer to the question has never been fully answered because injuries to key receivers have hampered Hasselbeck's ability to form any type of rapport with them.

Deion Branch was earmarked as the top receiver, taking over Jackson's starting spot at flanker, but a sprained foot has kept Branch out of the past two and a half games. D.J. Hackett was the team's starting split end at the end of training camp, but suffered a high ankle sprain after his first and only catch of the season.

The result has been inconsistency at the position. Bobby Engram has displayed his veteran poise and versatility by becoming the team's leading receiver while moving from flanker to the slot.

But while Nate Burleson has made some spectacular plays, he also has made some mistakes, including cutting short routes that have resulted in interceptions, and Ben Obomanu and rookie Courtney Taylor, while solid, are inexperienced.

Hasselbeck possesses the league's sixth-best quarterback rating at 88.6, but he has looked flustered and indecisive at times because he does not always know who his best option is, particularly when he is under pressure.

Of his six interceptions, only three was really his fault, the other three either tipped by receivers first or the wrong routes run.

However, when the Seahawks return from their bye week to play the Cleveland Browns, Hasselbeck should have a full complement of receivers back, both Branch and Hackett scheduled to return from their respective injuries.

It will be the first game this season Hasselbeck has had everybody in place and he should start to feel more comfortable, which the team desperately needs right now because its running game is so ineffective.
How long it will take Hasselbeck to get back in tune with Branch and Hackett remains to be seen, but at least he has the chance to finally discover who his new will be Darrell Jackson.

PLAYER NOTES

--WR D.J. Hackett is in his contract year and will need to use the remaining nine weeks to generate more interest in him as a free agent. He has been injury-prone so staying healthy is a key for him.

--K Josh Brown's only miss in 14 field goal attempts was one that got blocked because of faulty blocking.

--TE Marcus Pollard was expected by coach Mike Holmgren to catch 50-60 passes this season. So far, he has only 12 and will miss at least one more game after having arthroscopic surgery on his knee.

--WR Courtney Taylor nearly caught his first career TD pass against the Rams but had it stripped away at the last moment by Fakhir Brown.

--P Ryan Plackemeier is averaging 41.2 yards per punt, which is 3.8 yards less per punt than he averaged as a rookie. Some of his problems lie with poor snaps, which have caused him to rush and have been the reasons for two blocked punts.

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ARIZONA CARDINALS
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Coach Ken Whisenhunt has been preaching the same message for months. If the Cardinals want to win, they have to play tough and smart. Through seven games, they've done one, but not the other.

The Cardinals have been in every one of their four losses. What's hurt them are turnovers, penalties and other critical mistakes. It's something coaches emphasized during their brief time with players during the bye week.

The Cardinals (3-4) led the league in penalties (59) and penalty yards (497) heading into their off week. "Some of the things we've wanted to do -- playing tough, running the football -- I think we've done a decent job of," Whisenhunt said. "I think if we do some of the things that I said we were going to do which we haven't done, which is be smart and be disciplined and not having the penalties, our record would be a little better than it is now."

The Cardinals think they are battling perception as much as reality. Because of their losing history, they tend to get no breaks from officials, according to players.

"We're not going to get anything handed to us," said receiver Anquan Boldin. "We're just got to have the attitude that we have to play not only against the other team but the refs, also."

That's the prevailing opinion among the players. Whisenhunt is careful not to blame officials for the Cardinals' problems, admitting his team has been sloppy at times, and that players have made silly mistakes.
But he acknowledges that the Cardinals do have a reputation to overcome.

"Some of it is a function of, until we win more games, we're going to get some of those penalty calls," he said. "That's the natural way that this team is perceived sometimes.

"Sometimes, they're very justified. We've had some situations where we can't make those penalties. We have to play better football. I think we've been a little sloppy at times, and I think maybe that's the perception of this team."

If the Cardinals can eliminate a share of those mistakes, they could make a run in the second half, starting with Sunday's game at Tampa Bay. Their schedule is manageable, provided they can avoid key injuries.

One point of emphasis will be getting off to better starts. The offense has accounted for just two field goals in the first quarter of games this year.

"I'm going to quit talking about it because it obviously hasn't had an effect yet," Whisenhunt said. "The one encouraging thing is I hear a lot of our players starting to talk about. So it is obviously in their consciousness and if that's the case, then that means, that eventually, it's going to come true for us."

PLAYER NOTES

--OLB Karlos Dansby is moving much better after suffering a sprained knee, and the team is hopeful he will be able to play against Tampa on Sunday.

--S Aaron Francisco, a key special teams player, has made progress in returning from a sprained knee. He could return this week.

--QB Kurt Warner's left elbow is going to take several weeks to heal. Warner has a torn ligament and until scar tissue forms, he's going to have to cope with some pain and lack of movement. He plans to play through it, however.

--WR Anquan Boldin likely is going to be bothered most of the year with a muscle problem near his hip. Boldin missed three games because of the injury but was effective in his first game back.

--LT Mike Gandy will be questionable because a calf injury. Gandy is moving better, and the club is hopeful he can play. If he can't, rookie Levi Brown will start with Elton Brown staying on the left side.

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ST. LOUIS RAMS
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With their season at the halfway point, and with no wins to show for their efforts, having a bye might be just what the doctor ordered. "It comes at a great time," running back Steven Jackson said. "I think we need this bye for guys to get away for awhile to collect their thoughts, a lot of coaches to do the same thing and hopefully we come back strong."
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Jackson started Sunday for the first time since Sept. 23, and gave the team energy in the first quarter of an eventual 27-20 loss to Cleveland. He scored the team's first rushing touchdown of the season and helped the Rams take an early 14-0 lead, their first two-score lead of the season.

But back spasms knocked him out of the game, and the running attack sputtered with rookie Brian Leonard in the game. Twice in the game, once from the Browns 33-yard line with a 14-3 lead in the second quarter, and the next time from the Browns 16 in the fourth quarter, Leonard was stopped for no gain on both third- and fourth-and 1.

Said quarterback Marc Bulger of Jackson, "He's an electric guy. He changes our team, plain and simple. We were on the offensive when he was in there and not real effective when he was out." To a man, Rams players are stunned they will start the second half of the season at New Orleans on Nov. 11 looking for their first victory.

Said linebacker Will Witherspoon, "It's not good to be 0-8, but at the same time, I look at the guys in this locker room and look around and see their faces and I say, 'You know what, I'm going to fight on.' I know they are going to do the same, because we are all fighting for each other. We are not just going to sit here and lay ourselves down just because of where we stand and what has happened already. You have to learn from the past and you have to be better than that and look to what is ahead."

Wide receiver Torry Holt was asked if the team might not be as good as they once thought. He said, "Well, I'll never come to that conclusion. That's almost like giving up; almost like throwing in the towel and that's not a situation I'm going to allow myself to get into and a situation that I'm not going to allow my teammates to get into or get into any talks like that at any level.

"We are 0-8 and we still have an opportunity to finish 8-8, the same way we finished last year. So that is the approach that we have to take from this point on. We really have to try to get through this loss today and get back healthy and take some time off, hopefully some lengthy time off and reenergize ourselves and refocus what it is we need to do to finish this thing on a good note."

PLAYER NOTES

--RG Richie Incognito suffered a sprained knee in the first quarter and did not return. He was scheduled for an MRI Monday. Incognito missed the first four games of the season with a high ankle sprain.

--C Nick Leckey played right guard Sunday against Cleveland after Richie Incognito left the game with a knee injury. In his fourth NFL season, this was Leckey's first-ever experience at guard in an NFL game.

--RB Steven Jackson had eight carries for 41 yards in the first quarter and scored the team's first rushing touchdown of the season before leaving the game with back spasms. Jackson had missed the previous four games because of a partially torn groin.

--DE Leonard Little was inactive for Sunday's game against Seattle because of a serious toe injury. Little will visit a specialist in Charlotte this week to see if he will try to play for the rest of the season or have surgery immediately.

--WR Drew Bennett was healthy for the first time this season after missing two games because of quad and hamstring injuries and being hampered in the games he played. Bennett had six receptions for 63 yards with four being good for first downs, two of which were on third down.

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SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
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It was not supposed to be like this for the 49ers, who ended last season with high hopes. The 49ers spent money in free agency and figured to take the next step to become legitimate playoff contenders. But the 49ers appear to have regressed. They have a 2-5 record and face a must-win game when they take on the Atlanta Falcons at the Georgia Dome on Sunday.

"I never saw this coming," 49ers defensive lineman Bryant Young said. "I didn't believe that we could start off like this."

The 49ers have the same record through seven games as last season, when they went on a three-game win streak to get back to the .500 mark with six games remaining. But the 49ers have not shown any signs of putting it all together this season.

"Things aren't going our way," 49ers running back Frank Gore said. "The quarterback is banged up. I'm banged up. We have a big, black cloud over us. Everything is going wrong."

Quarterback Alex Smith expects to be back in the starting lineup after gutting his way through the 49ers' 31-10 loss last week against the New Orleans Saints. Smith sustained a separated throwing shoulder Sept. 30. He required a pain-killing injection prior to the game and was in visibly pain throughout.

Yet, coach Mike Nolan said he did not consider removing Smith from the game because he got the OK from the medical staff and Smith did not want to come out of the game. "If I see him hurting, I'm going to ask him if he can go or not," Nolan said. "That's why I admire Alex's toughness. I go on the doctor's recommendations. The doctors say this is what you do. If they say he can go and Alex says he can go, he goes."

Smith was clearly rusty in his return to the starting lineup. He completed just nine of 20 passing attempts in the first half. He finished the game with 22-of-43 passing for 190 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

Although Smith was not effective, he might have taken a step toward establishing himself as a leader on the team. His teammates showed admiration for his willingness to play while injured.

"He's one tough guy," 49ers rookie tackle Joe Staley said. "Seeing a guy get out there and play while in that much pain just makes you play harder for him. You could tell in the huddle that he was hurting but he didn't want to let anybody know it."

Smith said he is not risking further injury by playing. He said it is a pain-tolerance issue.

Gore, the 49ers' other most important offensive player, is also injured. He sustained an ankle sprain Oct. 21 against the New York Giants. He did not practice much last week, but played against the Saints. Gore rushed for just 41 yards on 12 carries and was in and out of the lineup after aggravating the injury. He is expected to play Sunday against the Falcons, too.

PLAYER NOTES

--QB Alex Smith returned to the starting lineup after missing two starts with a separated throwing shoulder he sustained Sept. 30 against the Seahawks. Smith was largely ineffective and missed some open receivers in Sunday's loss to the Saints. Smith completed 22 of 43 passes for 190 yards with one touchdown and no interceptions.

--RB Frank Gore played with a right ankle sprain and he aggravated the injury in the second half. Gore came back into the game. He finished with just 41 yards on 12 carries. His NFL-best streak of having at least one carry of 10 yards or more in 25 consecutive games came to an end.

--TE Vernon Davis caught a career-high six passes, as he was featured prominently in the game plan. Davis had 71 receiving yards, including his first touchdown reception of the season.

--WR Ashley Lelie made his first start with the 49ers, as he played in place of injured Darrell Jackson. Lelie caught three passes for 20 yards, but the 49ers did try to get the ball down the field to him. Alex Smith said he had some opportunities to make big plays to Lelie but his attempts were off target.

--CB Walt Harris was scheduled to undergo an MRI on a hyperextended left knee. His availability for Sunday's game against the Falcons is in question. Harris had a rough game against the Saints, as he yielded two of Marques Colston's three touchdown catches.

--WR Darrell Jackson did not suit up for Sunday's game because of a quadriceps strain. Jackson's availability for Sunday's game against the Falcons is not certain.


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