NFC West: 2012 Week 12 Wrap-ups
December, 2, 2012
Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers and St. Louis Rams following the Rams' 16-13 victory in overtime Sunday at the Edward Jones Dome:
What it means: The Rams improved to 4-0-1 against the NFC West with a victory carrying long- and short-term implications for the division. St. Louis served notice again that it's going to be a player in the division for years to come under coach Jeff Fisher. And while a playoff push isn't likely given the Rams' 5-6-1 record, they at least opened the door for 7-5 Seattle to challenge the 8-3-1 49ers atop the division. This outcome will also provide an opportunity to revisit the 49ers' decision to replace quarterback Alex Smith with Colin Kaepernick. That will likely be the case every time San Francisco loses a game for the remainder of this season.
What I liked: Both defenses played well from the beginning. The Rams held the 49ers to their lowest point total since a game against Seattle in Week 7.
Kaepernick and Ted Ginn Jr. combined for a key fumble, but Kaepernick bounced back with the 50-yard run. He scrambled to convert on third down earlier in the game. That was good for the 49ers, obviously, but it also reflected good pass defense by the Rams. And when the Rams finally did drive deep into 49ers territory, San Francisco made a fourth-and-goal stop to preserve its 7-0 lead.
Frank Gore broke a 23-yard run for the 49ers and scored the only touchdown of the first half. Teammate Aldon Smith collected another sack, giving him 17.5 this season and more through two seasons than any player since the NFL began tracking sacks in 1982.
Rams rookie Janoris Jenkins, who scored two touchdowns against Arizona last week, collected another one when he returned the Kaepernick fumble to the end zone. And when the Rams' Sam Bradford found Lance Kendricks on the two-point conversion, the game was tied 10-10.
Rams rookie Greg Zuerlein made the tying 53-yarder and the winning 56-yarder to continue a remarkable first season.
What I didn't like: The Rams couldn't score in a goal-to-go situation early in the third quarter. This was a rare chance for the Rams to get points. Going for it on fourth down was understandable. The strategy has worked for the Rams in recent weeks. Failing to get points there really hurt, though.
The 49ers took a safety when officials determined Kaepernick did not get the ball past the line of scrimmage on a pass from the end zone. Replays seemed to show the ball traveling past the line, however. That might have been questionable call. The ruling was a bit confusing. However, as Fox analyst Mike Pereira explained, the line of scrimmage extends out of bounds for the purposes of grounding penalties.
Niners kicker David Akers missed a 51-yard attempt at the game winner in overtime. Akers has been playing hurt and his long-range kicking in particular has suffered.
What's next: The 49ers are home against Miami in Week 14. The Rams visit the Buffalo Bills.
November, 25, 2012
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 31-17 victory over the Arizona Cardinals in Week 12 at University of Phoenix Stadium:
What it means: The Cardinals' latest quarterback experiment will not produce immediate positive results, even at home against a struggling opponent. The Rams, who had not won since they defeated Arizona in Week 5, got strong play from Sam Bradford after the third-year quarterback briefly left the game with an injury. Sweeping the season series from Arizona puts the Rams (4-6-1) in position to finish ahead of the Cardinals (4-7) in the NFC West standings. The Cardinals are the first NFL team to lose seven consecutive games following a 4-0 start. They are hoping Kevin Kolb returns from injury soon.
What I liked: Cardinals rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley completed 7 of 8 passes to open the game as Arizona drove to Beanie Wells' touchdown run for a 7-0 lead. Lindley was making his first NFL start. It was important for Arizona to have Lindley inspire some confidence early in the game. Lindley made some impressive throws, but the four interceptions he threw more than offset them.
It was important for the Rams, conversely, that their defense finally ended its turnover drought before it reached an NFL-record six games. That happened when Rams rookie cornerback Janoris Jenkins returned a Lindley interception for a touchdown to tie the game, 7-7. Safety Craig Dahl picked off another Lindley pass later in the game. Jenkins collected another pick-six to put away the game for Arizona. Even linebacker James Laurinaitis picked off a pass.
Bradford showed toughness by returning quickly after taking a hard hit that left him holding his ribs. Bradford quickly moved the Rams down the field, connecting with second-year tight end Lance Kendricks for a touchdown off play-action. As players note, playing hurt is one thing. Playing well when hurt is another.
Steven Jackson topped 100 yards rushing for the Rams, a big help for Bradford and the offense. Rookie Chris Givens had a 37-yard touchdown reception for the Rams, continuing his big-play production. He also topped 100 yards.
Also, the Cardinals got two touchdowns from Beanie Wells in the running back's return from injury.
What I didn't like: Three three turnovers from Lindley made life tough for the Cardinals' defense. Still, Arizona gave up too many plays to a Rams offense that had struggled during a 27-13 defeat to the New York Jets last week. Bradford tossed a pick in the end zone for the second time in as many games against the Cardinals this season. Patrick Peterson picked off both of those passes. Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald had a rough time producing for the second week in a row. He had one catch for 11 yards last week and had three catches for 31 yards deep into the fourth quarter. A holding penalty against Rams tackle Rodger Saffold spoiled a red zone opportunity for St. Louis.
What's next: Arizona visits the Jets. The Rams are home against San Francisco. St. Louis has a 3-0-1 record in NFC West play.
November, 25, 2012
Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 24-21 road loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 12:
What it means: The Seattle defense failed to hold a late-game lead on the road once again, same as the case was at Detroit. As a result, the Seahawks are 6-5 heading into a road game against Chicago in Week 13. Quarterback Russell Wilson was outstanding in this game, same as he was at Detroit and same as he has generally been since about Week 5. This isn't the time to consider the bigger picture, however. Seattle has blown prime opportunities to improve its playoff chances in a competitive NFC. Conservative play calling on the Seahawks' final possession backfired.
What I liked: Leon Washington's 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown broke a 14-14 tie in the fourth quarter. This was Washington's first return touchdown since 2010 and it came at the right time for Seattle.
Wilson made one of the more impressive plays a quarterback can make. He faced immediate pressure up the middle on a third-and-12 play in the second quarter. He spun away from pressure, rolled hard to his left and rifled a pass across his body to Sidney Rice for a 26-yard gain along the left sideline. Wilson's feel for the pocket and scrambling ability kept alive drives. He completed 21 of 27 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns with a 125.9 passer rating.
Rice and fellow receiver Golden Tate continued a recent trend of making plays. Tate's acrobatic diving catch for a 32-yard gain before halftime set up the tying 3-yard touchdown pass to Anthony McCoy.
Wilson, who had struggled in third quarters this season, completed all seven attempts for 66 yards and a touchdown during an 80-yard drive to the go-ahead touchdown on Seattle's first possession of the second half. Wilson also scrambled for 23 yards on the drive. He completed 16 consecutive passes at one point, nearly tying Warren Moon's franchise record of 17, set during the 1998 season.
The Seahawks' defense shut down the Dolphins' offense early. Rookie middle linebacker Bobby Wagner picked off a pass. Defensive end Chris Clemons beat Dolphins left tackle Jake Long for a sack.
What I didn't like: The running game wasn't good enough for Seattle, including when the team opted for repeated handoffs while trying to get into range for a field goal with the game tied 21-21 late in the fourth quarter. Hindsight says the Seahawks should have tried a couple of quick passes to move the ball forward. Wilson had been hot. The running game been struggling. The play calling in that situation was questionable, at best.
Seattle's offense failed to gain a first down until the second quarter. The running game went nowhere early. Marshawn Lynch had a tough time finding running room most of the day. The Dolphins' Paul Soliai was a tough matchup for center Max Unger and the Seahawks' line.
A penalty against free safety Earl Thomas for an illegal hit on Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill wiped out a second interception for Wagner, this one in the end zone. The penalty gave the Dolphins a first-and-goal situation, setting up the tying touchdown with 8:08 remaining in the fourth quarter. Thomas leaped to defend the pass. His momentum carried him into Tannehill. This was a killer penalty for Seattle. Penalties were a problem overall for Seattle, a change from recent form.
Seattle's defense busted coverage at key moments, including when Dolphins receiver Charles Clay got wide open for a 29-yard touchdown to tie the score at 21-21. Clemons' first-half sack was the only one Seattle recorded all game. Tannehill completed 18 of 26 passes for 253 yards with one touchdown, one pick and a 97.1 passer rating.
What's next: The Seahawks visit the Bears in Week 13.