1. Frank Gore, 49ers RB. The workhorse runner has become a former workhorse runner, carrying only 32 times over the 49ers' last three games. Gore appears caught between the 49ers' stated priority this season (pounding the football behind a physical offensive line) and their more recent reality (setting up the offense for quarterback Alex Smith). Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had more rushing yards than Gore in Week 13. Seahawks coach Jim Mora, whose team surrendered 207 yards to Gore in Week 2, should send a thank-you card to the 49ers' coaching staff. Mora: "How they decide to operate and how they decide to distribute the ball, that’s their business. It’s not for me to say. I just know as the opponent, I was extremely happy to see Frank Gore with only nine [carries]."
2. Oshiomogho Atogwe, Rams FS. The potentially season-ending shoulder injury Atogwe suffered against the Bears makes this a good time to revisit his long-term future with the team. The Rams will have paid more than $6 million to Atogwe this season after naming him their franchise player. As much as the Rams appreciate Atogwe's approach and production, it's tough to envision a team with limited resources investing top dollar in a long-term deal for a good-but-not-great safety. The shoulder injury could make it tougher for Atogwe to command what he's worth even if he hits the market during the offseason. His interceptions have fallen from eight in 2007 to five last season to two in 12 games this season.
3. Mike Singletary, 49ers coach. Singletary has commanded respect from 49ers players. He has shown himself to be accountable, including when he took the blame for a botched reverse in Week 13. Singletary also took blame for getting outcoached during a Week 5 defeat to the Falcons. Being accountable is great, but not enough. Singletary also must inspire confidence. Players must know he has the answers. The 49ers appeared disorganized at times against the Seahawks, burning a timeout only 6 seconds into the game. Their upcoming Monday night game against the Cardinals provides occasion for revisiting the disorganized final minutes of the 49ers' Monday night defeat against Arizona last season. It's important for Singletary to appear competent over the final four games.
Kurt Warner threw three touchdown passes in Arizona's win over the Vikings Sunday night.
1. Kurt Warner, Cardinals QB. Warner didn't flinch or report additional concussion symptoms despite taking a few hits during a 30-17 victory over the Vikings. His three-touchdown first half re-established Warner as an MVP candidate while helping the Cardinals post their best 12-game record since 1976. The Cardinals had reason for concern when Warner missed six quarters while having a hard time shaking concussion symptoms, including sensitivity to light. Warner's emphatic return on a national stage puts them in position to clinch a second consecutive NFC West title by beating the 49ers at Candlestick Park in Week 14. Warner has tossed 12 touchdown passes without an interception since his five-pick game against Carolina.
2. Alan Branch, Cardinals NT. Life these days is much better for the Cardinals' 2007 second-round draft choice. He's having fun playing the game after a rough first two seasons. Branch's ability to push the pocket against Minnesota played a key role in the Cardinals' ability to disrupt Brett Favre and contain Adrian Peterson. The play Branch made against Chester Taylor on third-and-4 from the Arizona 5 helped limit the Vikings to a field goal when a touchdown would have tied the game, 14-14. Branch finished the game with four tackles, including one for a loss. He also had a quarterback hit. "Those are the kinds of things that excite you about Alan," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
3. Olindo Mare, Seahawks K. Smith might have been a better fit in this spot had the 49ers beaten Seattle. A few more Cardinals, including cornerback Michael Adams and linebacker Karlos Dansby, also could have qualified. But let's give Mare some credit for making 18 consecutive field goals, including the game-winner against San Francisco, since Mora famously ripped him following a Week 3 defeat to the Bears. Mare has made 21 of 23 field goal tries overall this season, setting what would be a single-season career mark for accuracy. He has 21 touchbacks in 12 games this season (predecessor Josh Brown has 14 in 28 games with the Rams, for the sake of comparison).