NFC West: 2013 Week 17 Rapid Reaction

Rapid Reaction: San Francisco 49ers

December, 29, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Observations from the San Francisco 49ers' 23-20 victory against the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday.

What it means: The 49ers are the No. 5 seed in the NFC playoffs and will play at the No. 4 seed Green Bay Packers next week. The 49ers entered the game with a slim shot at having a bye and hosting a playoff game. That didn’t happen. But the 49ers did what they had to do in a wild game -- they were leading 17-0 in the first quarter -- and kept the No. 5 seed. The 49ers are entering the playoffs as one of the NFL's hottest teams. They have won a league-high six straight games and they won 11 of their past 13 games. They finished the season 12-4.

Streak over: 49ers kicker Phil Dawson missed a 24-yard chip-shot at the end of the first half. It broke a streak of 27 straight successful field goal attempts, a franchise record.

However: Dawson more than redeemed himself with a 56-yard field goal with 1:45 remaining to give the 49ers the lead, and then hit the game winner from 40 yards as time expired.

Goodbye Candlestick: Candlestick Park is now history, unless the 49ers host the NFC title game against the No. 6 seed. That has never happened in the NFL since it adopted this format in 1990. Seattle won Sunday to claim the NFC West and the No. 1 seed. The 49ers will move into Levi’s Stadium in Santa Clara next season.

Stock watch: NaVorro Bowman's defensive player of the year candidacy has only risen. He had an interception to set up a touchdown and forced a fumble, which he recovered. It was a nice response to his 89-yard pick-six to save the win last week against Atlanta. The inside linebacker has been special all season.

Big day for Boldin: 49ers receiver Anquan Boldin had nine catches for 145 yards against his former team. At one point, he had 106 of the 49ers’ 109 receiving yards.

What’s next: A rematch of Week 1 against Green Bay, which the 49ers won in a wild home game.

Rapid Reaction: Arizona Cardinals

December, 29, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A few thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 23-20 loss to San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: Not much changed throughout the season. Arizona showed Sunday it was still the team that liked to get down early, let its defense all but shut down the opposing offense and then, if it felt like it, the offense would come up with a big play to win. Arizona never gave up even as New Orleans was running over Tampa Bay, eliminating the Cardinals from the playoffs. There was more than that on the line in Glendale, especially against an NFC West foe that Arizona thought it should’ve beaten back in Week 6. The Cardinals also wanted to finish 11-5 to prove they were a playoff-caliber team.

Stock watch: Michael Floyd continued his tear despite shoulder and ankle injuries. He finished with 91 yards, topping 1,000 this season, on a variety of short passes as well as the deep ball he’s become known for around Arizona. Carson Palmer tried to go to Floyd early but San Francisco was ready for him. Floyd should’ve come down with a few of those but his shoulder clearly limited him. When Arizona needed a spark, however, the Cardinals went to Floyd down the middle for a 44-yard pass.

No gain for RBs: All week, the Cardinals’ defensive line qualified any comment about being the No. 1-ranked rush defense by saying they hoped it’d continue against the Niners. Arizona held San Francisco’s running backs -- Frank Gore, Kendall Hunter and Anthony Dixon -- to 22 yards. A lack of a running game forced San Francisco to pass, which, in turn, allowed the Cardinals to go after Colin Kaepernick, who struggled on passes when he was chased. Every one of San Francisco's drives during the second and third quarters ended with either a punt, turnover on downs, or a missed field goal.

Slow start: It plagued Arizona throughout the first half of the season, but anyone who watched this team -- and the team itself -- thought the first-half issues were, for the most part, solved. And they had been, until Sunday. The Cardinals allowed the Niners to score on their first three drives and went down 17-0 by the time the second quarter started. From there, Arizona simply couldn’t recover.

What's next: Arizona finishes with a 10-6 record.

Rapid Reaction: Seattle Seahawks

December, 29, 2013

SEATTLE -- A few thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks' 27-9 victory against the St. Louis Rams Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

What it means: In an ugly game with constant chippy play, pushing, shoving and punching to result in numerous personal fouls (mostly on the Rams), Seattle reached all its regular-season goals with the NFC West title, a first-round bye and home-field advantage in the playoffs. The 13-3 mark ties the team record for regular-season wins. Seattle now has won 15 of its past 16 home games.

Stock watch: After giving up 200 yards rushing in St. Louis earlier this year, the Seattle defense was a brick wall Sunday, allowing 13 yards rushing. Zac Stacy had 13 carries for four yards in the first three quarters Sunday. Stacy had 134 yards in the first meeting in the Monday night game against the Seahawks. Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch had his best game in over a month with 23 carries for 97 yards and one touchdown.

Tate tough and tauntless: Receiver Golden Tate isn’t the most popular guy with the Rams after his taunting penalty on an 80-yard touchdown in St. Louis, but he was a big thorn in their side Sunday. Tate had eight catches for 129 yards, including a 47-yard touchdown reception in the fourth quarter. He celebrated in the end zone, but didn’t taunt anyone.

Smith shines: Apparently, outside linebacker Malcolm Smith still was mad about not reaching the end zone on his interceptions last week. Smith had the big play at the start of the game with a 37-yard pick-six. He had a 32-yard interception return against Arizona last week, but was stopped at the 3. Smith is starting for injured K.J. Wright, another example of Seattle’s depth on defense.

Started the right CB: Walter Thurmond returned from suspension, but Byron Maxwell showed why he continues to start at cornerback. Maxwell had an interception in the second quarter. It was his fourth since taking over for Thurmond, who was suspended for substance abuse.

What's next: The Seahawks get next weekend off before hosting an opponent still to be determined.

Rapid Reaction: St. Louis Rams

December, 29, 2013

A few thoughts on the St. Louis Rams' 27-9 loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

What it means: The Rams finish the season at 7-9, a half-game worse than they were a year ago, but after another manhandling at the hands of a division opponent, it's fair to wonder how far they have to go to keep pace in the NFC West. After piecing together a division-best 4-1-1 record against the NFC West last year, the Rams finished 2013 at 1-5 in the division on their way to a fourth-place finish. Although St. Louis made strides outside the division, going 6-4, that's not going to mean much if the Rams can't find ways to hang with the teams ahead of them.

More alarming, St. Louis was almost completely feckless offensively in its five losses to Arizona, Seattle and San Francisco this season. Four of those games came without starting quarterback Sam Bradford, but with so many stout defenses in the West, the Rams have to find a way to score more points.

Stock watch: Down: the Rams' running game. There was almost no chance the Rams would be able to match the 200 rushing yards they had in the first meeting between the teams, but to say they came up short of that mark would be a massive understatement. The loss of left tackle Jake Long and the other moving parts along the offensive line allowed Seattle to stack the box and completely shut down Rams back Zac Stacy & Co.

Stacy didn't even get the 42 yards needed to reach 1,000 for the season. When the Rams run the ball, quarterback Kellen Clemens can have success throwing. When they don't, you get a performance like Sunday's. The Rams finished with a measly 13 yards on 18 carries, an average of 0.7 per attempt.

Flag fest: It's not an unusual sight to see the Rams racking up penalties, but Sunday's game might have taken it to a new level. Make no mistake, Seattle had its share of penalties and the officials didn't have much control, if any. But the Rams again failed to maintain composure and piled up silly penalties, many of the 15-yard variety. When all was said and done, the Rams had 12 penalties for 87 yards. That total doesn't even account for another handful that weren't accepted.

What's next: The Rams head into what should be an interesting offseason. They're positioned well in terms of the NFL draft, with the No. 2 overall pick from Washington plus another first-round pick, but will have some serious decisions to make in regard to the salary cap. In the increasingly tough NFC West, they can't afford any missteps.