NFC West: rapid reaction 14
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
The Cardinals are finally NFC West champions and they won't be apologizing for taking longer than expected to wrap up the division title.
Handing the Rams their 11th defeat in 13 games doesn't suddenly remake the Cardinals into an NFC favorite. But with a 5-1 record at University of Phoenix Stadium, Arizona takes renewed confidence into its Week 15 home game against the Vikings.
Arizona continued to struggle running the football from a numbers standpoint despite enjoying moderate success on its opening drive. But with Kurt Warner completing better than 70 percent of his passes, the passing game appears closer to finding a rhythm.
The Vikings and Cardinals are fighting for the third seed in the NFC race. The outcome of their game could determine which team would face the top seed in the division round, should either team prevail in a first-round game.
The Seahawks can't blame their latest defeat on poor production from Deion Branch.
The oft-injured receiver scored two touchdown passes in his first game against the team that traded him to Seattle for a first-round choice in the 2007 draft. The Seahawks might have won Sunday if the Patriots hadn't used that draft choice for safety Brandon Meriweather.
Meriweather's fumble-forcing sack in the final minutes stopped a promising Seattle drive, allowing the Patriots to run out the clock.
The Seahawks are beyond worrying about outcomes. At 2-11, they are looking for smaller victories. A few stood out Sunday:
- Rookie tight end John Carlson continued to play at a high level.
- Quarterback Seneca Wallace played perhaps his best game as a professional.
- Branch flashed the talent that made Seattle pursue him in the first place.
- Cornerback Marcus Trufant played at a Pro Bowl level against Patriots receiver Randy Moss.
- Seattle's patched-together offensive line played better than expected against an injury-depleted Patriots defense.
The biggest victory of all: Only three games remain on the schedule. The offseason can't come quickly enough for Seattle.
Posted by ESPN.com's Mike Sando
Interim coach Mike Singletary and quarterback Shaun Hill made their strongest case yet for returning in 2009.
Beating the Jets after losing workhorse back Frank Gore to an ankle injury will spruce up each resume. The Jets had playoff positioning to gain, but the 49ers' motivation -- continued employement -- might have been greater.
Singletary has won three of his last four games. Victories over the Dolphins, Rams and Redskins to finish the season -- a scenario less laughable after consecutive victories over the Bills and Jets -- would leave the 49ers with an 8-8 record and a dramatically improved outlook.
Singletary's decision to replace J.T. O'Sullivan with Hill while reducing high-risk pass plays has helped the 49ers avoid the self-destructing tendencies that cost Mike Nolan his job after seven games.
Gore's ankle injury becomes a primary concern heading into the Miami game in Week 15. With Hill at quarterback, the 49ers have a better chance at competing without their best offensive player.