Branch was injured four weeks later in Pittsburgh, suffering a sprained foot that has kept him out for the past two games. Both are expected back this week, which raises the question: How long will it take this time for the triumvirate to get in sync?
"Probably one day," Hasselbeck predicted. "Just knock some of the rust off and it should be fine."
That is optimistic for Hasselbeck, who strained an oblique in the team's last game before the bye, which kept him out of Monday's practice for precautionary purposes. Still, he said he did not expect the injury to be a hindrance, either in returning to the field or getting in tune with Branch and Hackett.
"I haven't tested it too much but I think I'll be fine," Hasselbeck said.
Though Bobby Engram has been admirably consistent as a fill-in for Branch and Nate Burleson has made some spectacular plays in place of Hackett, Hasselbeck, who possesses an 88.7 passer rating and whose arm has carried the team to a 4-3 record, said it will be nice to have his primary targets.
"The guys that have filled in have done a nice job but if we can get Deion (Branch) back, if we can get (D.J.) Hackett back, that'd be huge because those guys have done a lot of hard work with us and they kind of fit in nicely," Hasselbeck said. "A lot of these plays are designed for them."
If nothing else, the trio faces a Cleveland team that should be conducive to early success. The Brown are the second-worst team in the league defending the pass, giving up 270 yards a game.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck sat out Monday's practice with a strained oblique but said he should be fine for Sunday's game at Cleveland.
--RB Shaun Alexander, in two career games against Cleveland, has averaged 65 yards on the ground.
--TE Marcus Pollard had arthroscopic surgery and discovered a torn meniscus in his right knee. He will miss Sunday's game at Cleveland but expects to be back on Nov. 12 against San Francisco.
--WR D.J. Hackett, who has been out since the first week of the season with a high ankle sprain, practiced on Monday and should be back against the Browns.
--WR Deion Branch, out since Oct. 7 with a foot sprain, did not practice on Monday but is expected to play against Cleveland.
--DE Darryl Tapp, who had a career-high four sacks against St. Louis, had six screws placed in the bone just below his right ring finger, but he will play against Cleveland wearing a protective device on his hand.
--DT Rocky Bernard missed Monday's practice with a sore groin but is expected to play against the Browns.
--K Josh Brown leads the NFC (third in the NFL) with 11 touchbacks. Last season he had a career-high 12.
--P Ryan Plackemeier now has 17 total punts inside the 20 (second in the NFL) against two touchbacks.
The Cardinals proved how much they think of tight end Ben Patrick, their seventh-round pick this year, by promoting him to the regular roster, preventing his departure to the Falcons. The Falcons attempted to sign Patrick off the Cardinals' practice squad last week. Patrick, who is from Savannah, Ga., was tempted but wanted to give the Cardinals the chance to keep him, said his agent, Harold Lewis.
The Cardinals did just that, signing Patrick to a two-year deal this week. They waived offensive lineman Brad Badger to make room for Patrick. The Cardinals now have four tight ends on the roster, and Patrick isn't expected to play much, if at all. But he does fit into the team's future. He's athletic and can catch and run well.
His development was hampered this off-season by a hamstring injury, a big reason he didn't make the regular roster.
--QB Kurt Warner reported continued progress with his injured left elbow, saying the week off helped in his recovery. Warner will continue to wear a brace to provide stability.
--QB Tim Rattay could continue to play a role in the team's goal line offense. Starter Kurt Warner has trouble handing off, so keeping him in the game in those situations is risky.
--QB Tim Hasselbeck is the third quarterback and won't play unless Warner and Tim Rattay get hurt.
--RB Edgerrin James has been steady and reliable this year. He looks fresh, despite carrying the ball the vast majority of the time.
--RB Marcel Shipp won't get many carries unless the Cardinals are able to run the ball at least 30 times in a game. James will get most of the work to that point.
--RB J.J. Arrington showed why the Cardinals thought he was worthy of a second round pick in 2005. Arrington has looked fast and quick as of late and hasn't shied away from contact, a problem of his early in his career.
--WR Anquan Boldin won't be 100 percent this year because of a hip injury, but he's close enough to full health that he can impact a game.
--TE Leonard Pope has good hands and speed and could play a bigger part in the passing attack as the season develops. He has improved his understanding of the offense, however.
--K Neil Rackers is still reliable. He has missed some clutch kicks this year, but almost all of them have been from beyond 50 yards. The club needs to get him closer in tight situations.
--ILB Karlos Dansby has a sprained left knee but is hopeful of playing Sunday in Tampa Bay. Dansby has been out just two weeks so returning this week seems a little premature.
--OL Mike Gandy was moving well this week after suffering a calf injury against Washington in the last game. He's hopeful of playing. If he can't, Levi Brown will start at left tackle and Elton Brown will be on the right side.
--S Aaron Francisco, one of the club's special teams standouts, has a sprained MCL in his right knee. He looked good in rehab work this week and will try to practice on Wednesday.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
For a few days, Rams coach Scott Linehan has a chance to step back and consider where he is. Hired as head coach last year, Linehan led the team to an 8-8 record. Expectations were high for improvement. But then injuries began to pile up, and before he knew it, every week was a challenge just to figure out who would be playing on offense, especially on the line. Coaches don't cry woe is me and make excuses, but Linehan was asked if it's almost surreal what has happened on the offensive line.
"It's something I never want to go through again," he said. "I'm sure nobody can go back in their past and say, 'When we lost our offensive line this is what we did.' I haven't been able to find the answer to that one. I can say that, but I hope I don't have to give that advice to anybody, ever. It's obviously not working very well.
"It's bad luck because every one of them is an isolated incident. It started with (Todd) Steussie's injury in preseason. Steussie was a 15-game starter for us last year. That was significant. It looks like he'll be back for the Seattle game. We're looking forward to that. There's nothing odder than what happened with Orlando's (Pace) injury. That's the strangest one that I've ever seen. Then we have a guy on an extra point, like (Mark) Setterstrom gets bent back, gets caught up by four guys. Then we have Richie (Incognito) in preseason. We're back to Richie now so hopefully it won't happen again to the other guys. Richie, in preseason, gets rolled up on in the second preseason game and has a real severe high ankle sprain. The Orlando injury set the thing in motion with moving Alex (Barron) over to left tackle.
"We just could never settle in until two weeks ago. We had the same starting O-line and were able to keep guys there. Our goal now is to try to keep, without moving somebody in there at that right guard spot with the idea that when Steussie comes back he will play right guard or right tackle at some point. We'll try to get somebody in there without moving somebody if we can help it."
When asked if he's ever seen so many injuries on one team, Linehan said, "No. We had some others with Steven (Jackson) and the offensive line. I think it's pretty well documented. The biggest thing is we have to looked at everything and see what could have been prevented. I don't know if any of it (could have been prevented). They're all so different. Most of them were pretty flukish. I guess you're going to have your stroke of bad breaks in this business. Injuries are part of the game. We've had more than anybody would have ever imagined. It makes you better. It makes you look at what you have to do if you ever get in that position again. It makes you look at what you're doing to hopefully prevent them."
The Rams practiced Tuesday and are now off until Monday. Asked if there are any players not banged up or hurt, Linehan said, "There are some. Not everybody's hurt. It seems like everyone is, but we've had some guys ... I think defensively, for the most part, other than Leonard (Little) have been able to stay relatively healthy. Hopefully we can continue that and get our team as healthy as we can with this bye and build on some of the things that transpired with our football team, especially offensively, last week. We're a much better football team when we have the guys that we kind of were planning on when we built this football team in the offseason to be out there. We still ultimately have to play better regardless of who's out there in certain situations."
--QB Marc Bulger enters the bye week hoping the time away will ease injuries he has suffered to his ribs, knee and thumb.
--WR Torry Holt, despite playing with a problem knee and a part of a struggling offense, is still on pace to catch 92 passes for 1,152 yards.
--TE Randy McMichael has started to have more passes thrown his way. At the season's halfway point, he has 19 receptions for 248 yards.
--DE Leonard Little is heading to Charlotte to have his injured toe examined. Little is facing surgery, but hasn't decided when to have it. Odds are it could be sooner or later because the recovery time is three or four months.
--NT Clifton Ryan has been one of the defensive standouts in the first half of the season, and his play in the middle has helped free up MLB Will Witherspoon to make more plays.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Quarterback Alex Smith did not hesitate when asked if the correct decision was made. The 49ers stuck with Smith for every snap in the team's 31-10 loss Sunday to the New Orleans Saints despite Smith being in extreme pain from a separated right shoulder he sustained four weeks earlier.
"Absolutely," Smith said, "without question, it was the right thing to do."
Smith, who sustained a Grade III separation of his throwing shoulder on the third play of the 49ers' Sept. 30 game against the Seahawks, missed the previous two starts.
"The biggest benefit is the exposure to the plays and reps," Smith said. "Those reps are valuable. It's a big thing for this team to have me finish. You make the bed, you sleep in it. When things go bad and I'm not feeling good or this situation's not feeling good, let's get out of here. That would've been the easy thing to do."
Smith said he did not risk further injury to his shoulder by remaining in the game. He took several painful blows throughout the game.
One of the benefits of finishing the game is that he unquestionably earned a lot of respect among his teammates. Several teammates mentioned that seeing their quarterback endure that kind of pain and refuse to come out of the game was something the team can rally around.
Coach Mike Nolan said he saw that after the game when the team got together for a post-game talk.
"I know after the game when we huddled up, some guys called out his name as far as being a leader on this football team," Nolan said of Smith.
Smith downplayed the accomplishment because, after all, the 49ers lost by three touchdowns.
"There's nothing to be glorified about playing hurt and losing," he said. "It's all about winning."
--QB Alex Smith did not plan to throw Monday or Tuesday to allow the swelling in his right shoulder to subside before returning to practice Wednesday to face the Falcons. Smith, who returned to the starting lineup with an inconsistent performance against the Saints, said he figures to be back in the starting lineup for good.
--QB Trent Dilfer did not play Sunday, as Alex Smith returned to the starting role for the game against the Saints. Dilfer was the backup.
--RB Frank Gore admits his sore right ankle bothered him in the 49ers' loss to the Saints. Gore gained 41 yards on 12 carries, as the 49ers fell behind by so much that they abandoned their run game. Gore left the game briefly when he aggravated the injury, but he returned to the field.
--RB Michael Robinson had one of the more determined performances of the game when he caught a short pass, broken numerous tackles and struggled for a 20-yard gain in the third quarter. Robinson might continue to get more playing time with Frank Gore banged up. Robinson carried twice for six yards and he caught three passes for 43 yards.
--RB Maurice Hicks carried just two times Sunday but he committed a fumble. He rushed twice for 19 yards and caught one pass for five yards. He splits the backup duties with Michael Robinson.
--TE Vernon Davis showed some signs of being the kind of receiver the 49ers hoped he would become when they selected him with the No. 6 overall pick in the 2006 draft. Davis caught six passes for 71 yards and his first touchdown of the season.
--WR Darrell Jackson missed Sunday's game with a hamstring strain. His availability for Sunday's game against the Falcons is in doubt, too.
--WR Arnaz Battle did not have a good showing against the Saints, as he caught three passes for 22 yards. Battle leads the 49ers with 24 receptions for 238 yards and two touchdowns.
--WR Ashley Lelie got his first start with the 49ers and caught just three passes for 20 yards. This was Lelie's most extensive playing time with quarterback Alex Smith. The two players rarely got a chance to get on the field together during the exhibition season, as Lelie was pushed far down on the depth chart.
--LT Jonas Jennings has an ankle injury that kept him out of Sunday's game. Jennings has missed all or parts of 22 games since coming to the 49ers at the beginning of the 2005 season. When he is healthy, he will reclaim his starting job from Adam Snyder, coach Mike Nolan said.
--LB Hannibal Navies was re-signed after he was waived on Saturday for the second consecutive week. The 49ers promoted special-teams player Zak Keasey to the 45-man active roster for Sunday's game. Keasey was released Tuesday.