NFC West: 2012 Week 6 coverage

Wrap-up: Bills 19, Cardinals 16 (OT)

October, 14, 2012

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals’ 19-16 overtime defeat at home against the Buffalo Bills in Week 6:

What it means: The Cardinals rallied again but ran out of their usual home magic, snapping an eight-game winning streak at University of Phoenix Stadium. Losing at home to a Bills team that was playing as poorly as any in the NFL will fuel skepticism that Arizona wasn’t as good as its record indicated. Kevin Kolb was shaken up late in the game and did not finish it. And when John Skelton threw a killer pick in overtime, a quarterback controversy was probably averted.

What I liked: Jay Feely’s 61-yard field goal to tie the game in the final minute or so marked a career long by 6 yards. The Cardinals’ ability to force overtime in such unlikely fashion was typical for them at home.

Patrick Peterson picked off Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in the fourth quarter when the Cardinals desperately needed to make a play. Buffalo was driving while holding a 16-13 lead when Peterson got the ball back for Arizona with a little more than three minutes remaining.

John Skelton came off the bench late and converted on fourth-and-11 to give the Cardinals a chance as they worked to approach field goal range in the final two minutes.

Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald passed 10,000 yards receiving for his career on a fourth-quarter reception. He joined Randy Moss as the only players to reach the milestone before age 30.

What I didn’t like: A penalty against fullback Reagan Maui’a for spiking the ball following a reception killed a drive when the Cardinals needed to answer the Bills’ go-ahead field goal. That was a momentum killer for Arizona at a critical time. Having Feely miss the game winner late in regulation after delivering from 61 came as a big surprise. That was a crushing miss.

What’s next: The Cardinals visit the Minnesota Vikings in Week 7.

Rapid Reaction: Giants 26, 49ers 3

October, 14, 2012

Thoughts on the San Francisco 49ers' 26-3 home defeat against the New York Giants in Week 6:

What it means: The 49ers’ formula for success failed to materialize as the team struggled in many of the areas in which it has been strongest under coach Jim Harbaugh. Turnovers, missed field goals, questionable game management, special-teams coverage lapses and an inconsistent pass rush doomed the 49ers to their second defeat of the season. They’re 4-2 heading into their Thursday night game against the Seattle Seahawks. How will they respond to an embarrassing defeat?

What I liked: The 49ers got Randy Moss involved on downfield throws. They had some success -- not consistent success, but some success -- using Colin Kaepernick in doses. That included when Kaepernick completed a long pass to Mario Manningham as the 49ers moved into position for a field goal attempt right before halftime. The 49ers converted first downs on four of their first five third-down chances, a big improvement from their 1-of-13 showing on third down against the Giants during an overtime defeat in the NFC Championship Game.

What I didn’t like: Just about everything from a 49ers perspective. Alex Smith’s interceptions are a good starting point. He appeared to hold the ball a little long before throwing the first one on a pass intended for tight end Delanie Walker. The Giants made good plays on the ball for the other picks. The 49ers had chances to collect interceptions of their own, but they couldn’t finish plays. Carlos Rogers might have scored on one pass Eli Manning threw deep in 49ers territory, but he dropped the ball.

Smith’s streak ends: Smith had gone 26 consecutive starts without tossing more than one interception in a game. He tossed three against the Giants and also held the ball when the 49ers’ offensive line gave him ample time to find receivers. It’s possible there weren’t open receivers on some of those throws, but a quarterback still needs to unload the football to avoid field-position losses.

Key injury: The 49ers lost left tackle Joe Staley to a concussion. The injury has added significance because the 49ers have to play again Thursday night. Will Staley be cleared to play in time for kickoff? If not, the 49ers will have some shuffling to do as they prepare for Seahawks defensive end Chris Clemons, a strong pass-rusher and all-around player.

Questionable decision: 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh issued a first-half replay challenge even though it was clear the Giants had not lost a fumble on the play. The decision cost the 49ers one of their challenges early in the game and without any shot at prevailing, based on available replays.

What’s next: The 49ers are home against the Seattle Seahawks for a Thursday night game in Week 7. This will be their first game against a division opponent in 2012.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 24, Patriots 23

October, 14, 2012

Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 24-23 victory against the New England Patriots in Week 6:

What it means: The Seahawks improved to 4-2 with a comeback victory that should at least temporarily silence calls for the team to replace rookie quarterback Russell Wilson with backup Matt Flynn. Wilson connected on big plays early, then found Sidney Rice for the winning 46-yard touchdown pass with 1:18 remaining. This was exactly what Wilson and the Seahawks needed heading into a road game against the San Francisco 49ers.

What I liked: Wilson completed passes for 50 and 24 yards to Doug Baldwin, the latter for a touchdown, as Seattle jumped to an early lead. Wilson also scrambled for a 9-yard gain on third-and-4 to sustain that scoring drive. The decision to try a trick play in the second half, when the offense was struggling, worked out when Golden Tate drew a pass-interference call on a deep ball from Rice. The fourth-down scoring pass from Wilson to Tate was a big positive.

Seattle’s defense shut down the Patriots’ running game most of the time after New England had hurt opponents with a balanced attack. Richard Sherman put his size to use against Deion Branch in picking off a Tom Brady pass in the third quarter. Fellow cornerback Brandon Browner also made an impact with a huge hit on Patriots receiver Wes Welker. Sherman seemed to have a strong game. Sherman and free safety Earl Thomas picked off passes.

The Seahawks forced Brady into two grounding penalties at critical times. One prevented the Patriots from attempting a chip-shot field goal before halftime. Another forced the Patriots into third-and-20 with 4:47 left in the fourth quarter and the Patriots holding a 23-17 lead.

What I didn’t like: The Seahawks too frequently couldn’t stop Welker before or after the catch. That was a key variable heading into the game. Seattle figured Welker would get his catches, but coach Pete Carroll hoped the Seahawks could stop him from doing damage after the catch. Seattle had ranked third in fewest yards allowed after the catch (per reception).

Seattle’s run game had trouble getting traction. The Patriots were the first team this season able to control Marshawn Lynch from the beginning. That put additional pressure on the Seahawks in other areas, where the team hasn’t been as strong.

What’s next: The Seahawks visit the 49ers for a Thursday night game in Week 7.

Wrap-up: Dolphins 17, Rams 14

October, 14, 2012

Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 17-14 defeat to the Miami Dolphins on the road in Week 7:

What it means: The Rams can function well enough to win offensively even without injured top receiver Danny Amendola, but they still have to do the little things well to win, particularly on the road. Penalties, turnovers, a blown coverage and missed field goals will doom most visiting teams. The Rams were no exception Sunday despite a 294-100 edge in first-half yardage.

What I liked: The Rams ran the ball and stopped the run with much greater efficiency than seemed likely against this opponent. The Dolphins had led the NFL in rushing yards allowed, both overall and by carry. They also ranked eighth in rushing yards gained. No matter. The Rams built a 147-4 lead in rushing yardage at one point deep into the second half.

Quarterback Sam Bradford made impressive throws. His aggressive, accurate pass to tight end Lance Kendricks for a 23-yard gain right before halftime seemed to drop over the linebacker's helmet with only inches to spare. That was a gutsy throw delivered without hesitation. Bradford threw accurately to convert a fourth-down pass as St. Louis, trailing 17-6 at the time, drove for a touchdown. Bradford capped the drive with a 1-yard scoring run on a sneak, then brought the Rams within three points with a conversion pass delivered while scrambling to his right.

What I didn't like: Rookie kicker Greg Zuerlein missed from 52 and 37 yards in the first half after making every attempt previously this season. Those misses contributed to the Rams trailing at halftime despite their statistical dominance. Down 17-14 in the final seconds, Bradford inexplicably took a sack on third down. Zuerlein then missed a 66-yard try as time expired. Bradford cannot take a sack in that situation. Bad play by him. Zuerlein had made from 60 yards this season and would have had a better chance Sunday if Bradford hadn't taken the sack.

Penalties against the offensive line and tight end Matthew Mulligan set back the Rams. Some were understandable given the difficult matchups St. Louis faced while playing three backups on the line against a talented defensive front. I kept thinking how much better Bradford will look once the Rams' current leadership has had time to upgrade its offensive line. Bradford fared pretty well under the circumstances, but the penalties still hurt.

Cornerback Janoris Jenkins and fullback Brit Miller fumbled during special-teams returns. The Dolphins recovered Miller's fumble. Receiver Chris Givens was fortunate officials used replay to overturn another apparent fumble. Jenkins and Givens are talented rookies. They're big contributors for the Rams. There will be some growing pains. The hope here, from the Rams' viewpoint, is that both learned lessons Sunday.

What's next: The Rams, 3-0 at home this season, face the Green Bay Packers at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 7.