NFC West: Jeff Wilkins
His finest performance?
It's tough to find many more outrageous than Faulk's memorable effort for the St. Louis Rams during a 45-29 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in 2000.
Faulk finished the game with 208 yards rushing and 78 yards receiving, setting a career single-game high for combined rushing and receiving yards. He also scored twice on two-point conversions after the Rams lost kicker Jeff Wilkins to injury early in the game.
With Wilkins out, the Rams went for it on fourth-and-2 from the Atlanta 27-yard line with the score tied in the second quarter. Faulk ran up the middle for 16 yards, setting up the go-ahead touchdown.
The victory moved the Rams to 6-0 in their first season under Mike Martz, who called the running back's performance "incredible" and said at the time he couldn't find a weakness in Faulk's game.
This was back when the Rams felt as though they could score almost at will, and the evidence often suggested they were right. Facing fourth-and-15 in that 2000 game against the Falcons, Kurt Warner threw a 30-yard scoring strike to Az-Zahir Hakim. Who scores on fourth-and-15? Those old Rams teams did.
For pure impact, who could forget Faulk's 220-yard rushing performance against New Orleans with a playoff berth on the line in 2000? Faulk scored three touchdowns to give him 26 in 14 games that season.
"There's not a better player in this universe than Marshall Faulk," Martz told reporters after that game.
No one could argue.
Jeff Wilkins (Rams) and Neil Rackers (Cardinals) each went to a Pro Bowl. Josh Brown (Seahawks, Rams) fought through tougher conditions playing in Seattle, making quite a few clutch kicks, including some from long range. The 49ers' Joe Nedney posted the highest field-goal percentage of the four while with San Francisco.
Wilkins made 20 of 24 attempts from 50-plus yards during the decade. Brown made 25 of 37. Rackers made 16 of 34. Nedney made 8 of 14.
Unable to identify a clear overall winner, I reached out to a couple veteran special-teams coaches around the league. Their basic thinking went like this:
- Wilkins kicked indoors with the Rams, a clear advantage, making it tough to compare him to the others. "I don't ever remember voting an indoor kicker to the Pro Bowl," one coach said, even though Wilkins did earn a Pro Bowl berth for the Rams during the decade.
- Rackers has a stronger leg than Brown.
- Brown was better in the clutch than Rackers, who faced little pressure playing for bad teams earlier in the decade.
- Nedney wasn't in the division as long as the others.
Brown emerges as the winner, but like I said, it's tough to go wrong picking from this group.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Drew from Fife, Wash., writes: Sando, normally I agree with a lot that you write, but you are clearly showing your bias towards Seattle if you think Shaun Alexander is the better choice of running back over Marhall Faulk. Yes, Alexander scored a lot of touchdows over the years. But that was a product of what might have been the strongest left side of an offensive line ever. Once Hutch went to the Vikes, Alexander's carrer was over.
Mike Sando: You really think I'm so lazy in my analysis to consider Alexander over Faulk for the all-decade team because I covered the Seahawks? Was I then secretly covering for myself by taking Kurt Warner over Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback? Jeremy Newberry over Robbie Tobeck at center? It makes no sense.
Faulk had three great years this decade. Alexander had five. Both benefited from superb supporting casts. The Rams put two offensive linemen on the all-decade team, same as the Seahawks. Faulk had the better career and was the better player over the course of his career. This was not an all-career team. It was specific to the years 2000 through 2008.
As for Hutchinson, yes, his departure hurt the Seattle offense. But it wasn't the primary factor in Alexander's demise. Remember, that was Alexander carrying 26 times for 108 yards and two touchdowns during a playoff game at Soldier Field on Jan. 14, 2007 -- with Rob Sims at left guard for Seattle.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Neil Rackers' sensational 2005 season as the Cardinals' kicker ranked among the three best kicking performances from 1960 through the 2007 season.
That's the verdict from Chase Stuart's exhaustive analysis for Pro-Football-Reference.com. The analysis adjusted for eras by comparing kicking performances against other performances from the same seasons.
Players associated with current NFC West franchises posted some of the best -- and worst -- performances during the seasons in question (1960 through 2007).
Among the best
3rd: Rackers (2005). Made 40 of 42 overall attempts, including 13 of 14 from 40 to 49 yards and 6 of 7 from 50-plus yards.
30th: Bruce Gossett, 49ers (1973). Made all five attempts during 36-34 victory at Denver.
31st: Jim Bakken, Cardinals (1967). Led NFL in field-goal percentage.
32nd: Jeff Wilkins, Rams (2003). Made 39 of 42 attempts overall. Hit 14 of 15 tries in five victories decided by a total of 19 points.
44th: Gossett, Rams (1964). Led NFL in field-goal percentage (75 percent).
Among the worst
12th: Greg Davis, Cardinals (1992). Missed four times from 20 to 29 yards.
22nd: Mike Cofer, 49ers (1991). Missed all four attempts during 17-14 defeat to the Falcons. Overall, hit only 3 of 10 from 30 to 39 yards.
40th: Steve McLaughlin, Rams (1995). Missed 8 of 16 tries overall, but none was particularly consequential.
44th: Wade Richey, 49ers (1998). Missed a third of his attempts, including his ony try during a 24-21 defeat to the Patriots.
Apologies in advance if any of these references stir traumatic memories.