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Around the NFC West: Playoff blinders

12/21/2010

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Rams coach Steve Spagnuolo remains determined to focus only on the next game -- despite all the possible scenarios for the postseason. Spagnuolo: "I just know that until they tell us that we cannot make it to the playoffs, that's what we're still shooting for. They haven't said we're out of it yet, and right now we have to win this next game, and that's all I'm focused on. I'm not trying to avoid any questions. That's just how I am, and to me, that's where you have to put it for your football team to move forward. Can't do scenarios, can't worry about who they scheduled. You've got to go out and win a football game."

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' third-down offense has deteriorated over the last several games. Miklasz: "I'm not suggesting that the Rams should go full-time with the no-huddle attack. But I'm astounded that they don't utilize it more frequently. The Rams had some success mixing in a few no-huddle plays early against KC. Then the offense really bogged down; the energy drain was obvious during one of the most frustrating stretches after the season. After taking a 6-0 lead with field goals on their first two possessions, the Rams went to sleep for eight consecutive series. (I'm not counting the one-play series at the end of the first half.)"

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams are closer to getting tight end Mike Hoomanawanui back from injury. Coats: "Should Hoomanawanui be cleared for game action, he could solve another problem for Spagnuolo and his staff. Brit Miller, a key special-teams contributor, had taken over the fullback duties from Mike Karney, who was among the team's inactives the last four Sundays. But Miller tore the anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee in Sunday's 27-13 loss to Kansas City and will have surgery in about a month. Before Hoomanawanui was hurt, he was lining up at times at fullback, giving the Rams increased options with their play-calling."

Jeff Gordon of stltoday.com says the Rams' most recent performance has raised several questions.

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com passes along a few Rams notes, including this one: "Sam Bradford completed 21-of-43 passes for 181 yards to give him 3,065 on the season. Bradford is just the third rookie in NFL history to pass for 3,000 yards and he now has the third most passing yards by a rookie in NFL history, trailing only Peyton Manning (3,739) and Matt Ryan (3,440)."

Also from Wagoner: The Rams feel as though they are in a must-win situation.

Brian Stull of 101ESPN St. Louis offers a Rams injury update. Chris Long has a thigh bruise.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com offers his player-by-player review on the 49ers from their game against San Diego. On Travis LaBoy: "Entered at right outside linebacker on the Chargers' second drive. He got pressure on Rivers to disrupt play, resulting in pass to Hester for 8-yard loss. . . . Got past Chargers tight end Kory Sperry to stop Tolbert for no gain. But Sperry rolled up on LaBoy from behind on the play. . . . LaBoy sustained a left knee sprain that will not require surgery. But because the 49ers determined the ligament tear will take 6 to 8 weeks to recover, the 49ers placed him on injured reserve, thus ending his season."

Also from Maiocco: The 49ers think Troy Smith would be less effective without Frank Gore providing a threat in the running game. I agree completely. Smith's success came when opponents loaded up to stop Gore. Once teams paid more attention to Smith, the quarterback's production diminished.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee offers thoughts on the 49ers' playoff prospects. Barrows: "The 49ers have finished the last two seasons with a 3-1 record, which they would achieve again should they win their remaining games. They went 5-1 in the division last year with their lone loss coming in Seattle. They also would duplicate that feat by winning out. To win the division, however, the 49ers also would have to break two ugly trends -- losing on the road and dropping games that begin before noon on the West Coast. The team has just one win away from home -- Nov. 29 against Arizona -- and they've lost four of their five 10 a.m. (PST) starts. Their only a.m. victory came in London, a game in which the team had six days to acclimate to the new time zone."

Taylor Price of 49ers.com says there's no game bigger for the 49ers than their matchup with St. Louis.

Tim Kawakami of the San Jose Mercury News expects the 49ers to stick with Alex Smith at quarterback. Also: "If the 49ers get to 7-9 and win the West, they’d get home-field advantage in the first round of the playoffs, possibly against the defending champion New Orleans Saints, who very well could be 12-4 at that point and are currently Sagarin’s No. 8 team. This eventuality does not seem fair, as you probably have heard on TV, radio and in bar rooms across the nation. There may be rules changes on this in the future–maybe to erase the automatic home-field edge to division winners. But this season, it’s locked in. It will be strange, but whoever wins the NFC West will host a playoff game against a very good wild-card team."

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News sizes up the 49ers' playoff prospects.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle updates where the 49ers stand heading into Week 16. On the team's game against San Diego: "The 49ers dropped to 0-7 against teams with winning records, which is the main reason they won't finish as one of those teams with winning records this season. This time, they got whacked in San Diego, 34-7, lowlighted by a failed 4th-and-goal from the 6-inch line."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says Mike Singletary's struggles as a head coach are overshadowing his great playing career. Branch relates a story about the time Singletary kept playing despite losing part of a finger. Branch: "On Dec. 11, 1983, Singletary lost the tip of the middle finger on his left hand, had it stitched back on and demanded to return to Chicago’s game at Minnesota. Adding to the legend, a half-crazed Singletary returned with a wrapped-up hand and began screaming at Vikings offensive lineman Dave Huffman, telling him the Vikings wouldn’t score. Minnesota didn’t score. The Bears won, 19-13."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com says special-teams captain Roy Lewis is headed for injured reserve with a knee injury. Also, Chester Pitts and Mike Gibson will remain the starting guards.

Also from Farnsworth: Seattle is sticking with Matt Hasselbeck even after the quarterback committed eight turnovers leading to 37 points for the team's last two opponents.

More from Farnsworth: a look at the Seahawks' opening drive to a touchdown against Atlanta.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times offers thoughts on Hasselbeck's recent struggles. O'Neil: "For eight years Hasselbeck played for one coach in Seattle, and he knew Mike Holmgren's offense as well as any quarterback ever has. Now, he's using his second different playbook in two seasons. He was intercepted 17 times last season, the most of any year in his career. He has been picked off 17 times this season, making it he simply doesn't have that governor that kept him from going overboard in terms of his risks. It's unrealistic to expect offensive coordinator Jeremy Bates and Hasselbeck to have the relationship Holmgren forged with the quarterback over eight years, but something has got to change." The biggest change, I think, is the obvious deterioration in the supporting cast around Hasselbeck. He's no longer working behind an offensive line featuring Walter Jones, Steve Hutchinson, Robbie Tobeck and Chris Gray. He's no longer watching Shaun Alexander run behind fullback Mack Strong and that line.

Also from O'Neil: A Seahawks fan is suing Jets player Shaun Ellis for allegedly throwing a piece of ice into the Qwest Field stands two seasons ago.

More from O'Neil: Coach Pete Carroll is asking Hasselbeck to change his ways, but not his role.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune passes along Brian McIntyre's personnel breakdown from Seattle's game against Atlanta. Aaron Curry played more than 93 percent of the defensive snaps. Seattle was in its base defense nearly 70 percent of the time.

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune offers pros and cons behind the Seahawks' decision to stick with Hasselbeck. Boling: "Hasselbeck said after the game that he’s learning some lessons. We might note that he’s 35, and has started here most of the last 10 seasons, which generally is not considered learning-curve territory. Carroll and Hasselbeck both theorized that he presses too hard and makes shaky decisions when the team is behind. But the team has lost 31 games in the last three seasons, so he should have experience in these matters."

Doug Farrar of Sportspress Northwest looks at Michael Robinson's varied roles on the Seahawks.

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals could be without Joey Porter, Early Doucet and LaRod Stephens-Howling after all three suffered injuries Sunday. Porter might have suffered a serious triceps injury.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic offers thoughts on the Cardinals' performance against Carolina. Somers: "Most of the offensive problems Sunday (and this season) can be traced to poor quarterback play. Rookie John Skelton, making his second start, made poor decisions, bad reads and missed open receivers. When the offense struggles, people first want to blame the play-calling. But that's hard to justify when receivers are running open without getting the ball, or dropping it when they do get it."

Also from Somers: Whisenhunt has ceded some of the offensive play-calling duties, something he has done periodically over the years.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says Skelton will remain the Cardinals' starting quarterback. Also, Whisenhunt saw some mitigating factors regarding Tim Hightower's latest fumble. Whisenhunt: "That was a tough play. He was scrambling to get something and it was a big hit … it wasn’t a strip, the helmet hit the ball and it came out and fortunately Steve (Breaston) was there to pick it up. There wasn’t much you could say about it."

Also from Urban: Whisenhunt uses the word "painful" to describe the Cardinals' season.