NFC West: 2013 Week 14 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: San Francisco 49ers

December, 8, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few observations from the San Francisco 49ers' 19-17 win over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday:

What it means: The 49ers got the stink of two bad back-to-back losses to Seattle off their minds. This was a great game, and it will serve the 49ers well heading into the postseason. They proved they could beat a good team. The 49ers were 1-4 against teams with winning records going into Sunday's game. The 49ers are now 9-4, and the Seahawks fell to 11-2. Could we see a rubber match in Seattle in January? I would be surprised if we don't.

Dawson is hot: 49ers kicker Phil Dawson had four field goals, including a 22-yarder with 26 seconds to go. He has made 20 straight field goal attempts, a team record.

Stock watch: Anquan Boldin continued to benefit from the presence of Michael Crabtree. Boldin had six catches for 93 yards. He had nine catches last week. This could be a key component for the 49ers moving forward.

Gore comes through: Frank Gore, who had three straight slow games, had a 51-yard run on the 49ers' final drive to setup Dawson's game winner.

Third-down defense wanes: The 49ers' defense has been terrific all season, but if there has been an issue, it is the occasional lapse on third down. The Seahawks made three big conversions on third down. It's something the 49ers need to clean up.

Flag day: This was a physical game and it wasn't always clean. The Seahawks were penalized nine times for 85 yards and the 49ers seven times for 70 yards.

What's next: The 49ers travel to Tampa to play the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay has improved lately. It is 4-9 and 3-4 at home. The 49ers are 7-0 against teams with losing records.

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

December, 8, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 19-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday at Candlestick Park:

What it means: Seattle’s NFC title goals will have to wait at least one more week. The 49ers showed they can get it done, at least at home, against the best team in the league and their division rivals. This was a game the 49ers needed to win much more than the Seahawks did, and it showed.

Stock watch: Seattle’s run defense failed when the Seahawks needed it the most on a 51-yard run by Frank Gore late in the fourth quarter that set up the winning field goal for the 49ers. … It was clear early on that the 49ers were going to test Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell, and he took his lumps at times. But he also came up with a touchdown-saving interception in the third quarter, the first pick of his NFL career. … Seahawks receiver Golden Tate had another solid day, with six receptions for 65 yards and a 38-yard punt return that set up a third-quarter field goal.

Costly penalties: The Seahawks have won games this season despite their penchant for too many penalties, but it hurt them Sunday on the road against a quality opponent.

Willson’s best game: Maybe he was happy about his Rice Owls on Saturday clinching their first conference title in more than a half century. Whatever it was, Luke Willson had his best day as a pro. The rookie tight end had a big first half with two catches for 68 yards, including a 39-yard touchdown in the second quarter when he ran right by 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis and was wide-open over the middle.

What's next: The Seahawks play their final road game of the regular season against the New York Giants at MetLife Stadium. A victory would give Seattle a franchise-best six road wins this season. The Seahawks hope this game is a preview of the place where they will return in six weeks for the Super Bowl.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

December, 8, 2013

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 30-10 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

What it means: For the second week in a row, the Rams suffered a decisive loss to an NFC West opponent on the road. What's more, the loss moves the Rams to 5-8 on the season and puts them on an almost certain trajectory to a last-place finish in the division.

While the Rams have been playing without starting quarterback Sam Bradford since Week 7, they appear to have fallen behind yet another team in the NFC West. Before the season, many believed the Rams to be a sleeper to challenge Seattle and San Francisco for divisional supremacy. Instead, it's Arizona that has embraced that role, leaving the Rams searching for scraps.

The season-opening win over the Cardinals seems like a lifetime ago and remains the team's only divisional win against four losses only a season after going 4-1-1 in the same division. Perhaps most worrisome for the Rams is the real possibility that whatever improvements they believe they have made still aren't enough to keep them from the NFC West basement.

Stock watch -- up: Receiver Stedman Bailey -- Although his numbers don't leap off the page, Bailey has earned more playing time with his sharp route-running and consistent hands. He finished with three catches for 46 yards, but it's more instructive to note that he's the team's most reliable and trustworthy pass-catcher. It's been a rough year for Rams receivers, but Bailey is at least emerging as something of a bright spot in the final weeks.

Stock watch -- down: The Rams' secondary -- This isn't anything new, but be it scheme, personnel or a combination of the two, the Rams' defensive backfield continues to struggle. With cornerbacks playing plenty of soft coverage and drawing flags when they were more aggressive, Arizona's Carson Palmer made everyone forget he's battling an elbow injury. Palmer threw for 269 yards while completing 27 of 32 passes with a touchdown.

Clemens' rough day: It was established early that the Rams would have trouble running the ball, leaving the offense in the hands of quarterback Kellen Clemens. After some early success with bootlegs and rollouts, the Rams didn't have much more through the air. Once the Rams fell behind, Arizona deployed its seemingly endless variety of pressure packages and began battering Clemens.

When all was said and done, the Cardinals sacked Clemens four times and hit him seven, according to unofficial statistics. He was under fire plenty of other times and will certainly be sore on Monday.

What's next: A two-game western road swing comes to an end with the Rams returning home for the holidays for back-to-back games at the Edward Jones Dome. That's the good news. The bad news is the Rams welcome another tough opponent in the New Orleans Saints. Improving Tampa Bay follows just before Christmas to wrap up the NFC South portion of the schedule.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 8, 2013

A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 30-10 win over the St. Louis Rams.

What it means: It's hard to tell. The Rams played badly enough that it almost didn't matter how well the Cardinals performed. However, the defense is getting better each game and manhandled the Rams at the line of scrimmage, especially in pressuring quarterback Kellen Clemens. On offense, the Cardinals' line played among its best games of the season, holding Robert Quinn and Chris Long at bay. Some of the small improvements were progress, such as how the offensive line, in particular Bradley Sowell, corralled Quinn.

Stock Watch: For being questionable, quarterback Carson Palmer sure didn't look like he had an injured throwing elbow. He threw for 269 yards and one touchdown but he kept the passes relatively short, hitting Larry Fitzgerald for 96 yards on 12 passes. Palmer's elbow didn't appear to bother him as he was quick and timely with his passes. The week of rest looked to have helped Palmer.

Mathieu out: Tyrann Mathieu's knee injury looked gruesome as it happened on the field and even worse in replay. He left the game in the third quarter on a cart and did not return. If he can't play the rest of the season, Arizona's defense will take a hit of its own. Mathieu was a versatile safety who could play in base and nickel, but could also line up at cornerback, a skill Rashad Johnson -- Mathieu's replacement -- lacks. The Cardinals will also miss Mathieu's explosiveness and big-play capability.

Defensive points: Anytime the defense can add points, the odds of winning go up. On Sunday, Arizona's defense scored eight on its own: A safety by John Abraham and a pick-six by Karlos Dansby, his second in as many home games. Without the eight points, the Cardinals would've been sweating a 15-10 lead for most of the game.

What's next: The Cardinals head to Music City next Sunday to play the Tennessee Titans.