NFC West: 2010 Week 15 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Falcons 34, Seahawks 18

December, 19, 2010
Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 34-18 loss to the Atlanta Falcons at Qwest Field in Week 15:

What it means: The Seahawks lost no ground in the NFC West race while falling to 6-8, but questions persist at quarterback after coach Pete Carroll benched Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck completed 10 of 17 passes for 71 yards, two interceptions and a critical lost fumble. Hasselbeck's interceptions on consecutive third-quarter possessions precipitated the change. Charlie Whitehurst completed 8 of 16 passes for 83 yards in relief.

What I liked: The Seahawks started quickly. They scored a touchdown on their first possession and tied the score 10-10 after Atlanta took the lead. Seattle's shaky run defense held firm against the Falcons' Michael Turner, even when the Seahawks fell behind.

What I didn't like: The three third-quarter turnovers helped turn a 17-10 deficit into a 34-10 blowout before the fourth quarter. The Falcons' Jamaal Anderson sacked Hasselbeck in the end zone. The ball came out and Jonathan Babineaux recovered for Atlanta. The Falcons led, 24-10, and Hasselbeck followed with two picks. Interceptions have become a problem for Hasselbeck when Seattle falls too far behind. Seattle also got little from its usually productive return game.

Tomorrow's Talker: Is Hasselbeck finished in Seattle? Even if Hasselbeck remains the starter heading into Week 17, is there any way the team will re-sign him after such a rough late-season stretch? Hasselbeck has four touchdowns and 16 interceptions in his previous five December games dating to last season.

Williams' returns: Top receiver Mike Williams returned for Seattle. He caught eight passes for 66 yards.

What's next: The Seahawks head to Tampa Bay for a Week 16 game against the Bucs.

Wrap-up: Panthers 19, Cardinals 12

December, 19, 2010
Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' loss against the Carolina Panthers in Week 15:

What it means: This defeat extinguished the Cardinals' already slim playoff chances. Arizona can finish no better than 6-10. The Seattle Seahawks or St. Louis Rams will finish 6-9-1 or better because they play one another in Week 17. Arizona will suffer double-digit defeats in a season for the first time since the 2002 through 2006 teams made it five in a row. NFC West teams have now provided Carolina with its only two victories of the season.

What I liked: Steve Breaston's fumble recovery for a touchdown. The Cardinals' receiver has a knack for fourth-quarter heroics. The fumble he forced at St. Louis in Week 1 became the pivotal play in a 17-13 victory. His fumble recovery Sunday, after teammate Tim Hightower suffered another fumble, kept the Cardinals in the game. The Cardinals now have 10 return touchdowns for the season.

What I didn't like: The Cardinals' ground game stalled against a Carolina defense that has struggled against the run. Hightower fumbled again. The Cardinals had no rushing plays longer than 7 yards. That's difficult to fathom given the Panthers' struggles against the run this season. It showed, too, how limited a team can be with a rookie quarterback under center. John Skelton completed 17 of 33 passes for 159 yards with no touchdowns, one interception and a 57.1 passer rating.

Trending: Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald keeps setting milestones despite the team's overall struggles. The 17-yard reception Fitzgearld made during the fourth quarter moved him past 8,000 yards for his career. Fitzgerald became the second-youngest receiver in NFL history to reach 8,000 yards. Randy Moss was 26 years, 297 days old when he set the record. Fitzgerald was 27 years, 110 days Sunday. Former NFC West standouts Torry Holt (28 years, 205 days) and Jerry Rice (28 years, 330 days) rank third and fourth on the all-time list.

What's next: The Cardinals return home to face Dallas on Christmas.

Wrap-up: Chargers 34, 49ers 7

December, 16, 2010
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 34-7 road defeat against the San Diego Chargers in Week 15:

What it means: The 49ers fell to 5-9, meaning they will finish with a losing record after going 8-8 last season. Taking a step backward makes it tougher for coach Mike Singletary to justify keeping his job. Beating the Chargers in San Diego was a long shot, however, and the team remains in the NFC West race. The 49ers can claim a share of first place by beating St. Louis in Week 16 if Seattle loses its next two (at home against Atlanta, at Tampa Bay) and Kansas City beats the Rams.

What I liked: The temperature at kickoff was 56 degrees, ideal for football.

What I didn't like: This game, like the 49ers' season, was all about what could have been -- but was not. Outside linebacker Ahmad Brooks could have picked off Philip Rivers. He dropped the ball. Defensive end Justin Smith could have helped the 49ers' weather Rivers. He suffered a first-half disqualification. Alex Smith could have scored an early rushing touchdown. Replay said otherwise. Tight end Delanie Walker could have held onto the ball. He dropped it. Ted Ginn Jr. could have had an 85-yard kickoff return for a score. A facemask penalty nullified it.

Tomorrow's Talker: More of the same. Should coach Mike Singletary keep his job? What about Alex Smith?

Critical Call: Singletary went for it on fourth-and-goal from the 1 with San Diego leading 7-0 right after officials overturned Smith's apparent touchdown run. The 49ers failed to score. The risk seemed worth it because the 49ers were faring pretty well on the ground and they weren't going to win the game with field goals. Earlier in the drive, Singletary took a field goal off the scoreboard by accepting a penalty.

Trending: The 49ers' defense continues to give up big plays. Green Bay's Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' receivers took their turn two weeks ago. Rivers had his way Thursday night. He found Vincent Jackson for three scoring receptions, including a 58-yarder. Rivers averaged 10.9 yards per pass attempt.

Offense shut down: The 49ers managed only 192 yards, barely more than the season-low 189 yards they gained during a 21-0 defeat to Tampa Bay. Pro Bowl tight end Vernon Davis caught one pass, a late grab for 4 yards, after catching at least one scoring pass in five consecutive Alex Smith starts.

What's next: The 49ers visit St. Louis in Week 16.