NFC West: The Good, Bad & Ugly from Week 15
December 17, 2013 in NFC West
By Guest Writer Kevin Rodriguez:
All four teams from the NFC West won this Sunday; the 49ers and Seahawks by larger margins and the Rams and Cardinals by closer games.
The San Francisco 49ers won their 4th game straight in a 33-14 win on the road in Tampa, Fl. San Francisco running back Frank Gore tallied over 1000 yards for the 7th time in his career on Sunday. Colin Kaepernick now has 17 wins since taking over last season for Alex Smith; only 3 Quarterbacks have more wins. Tight end Vernon Davis caught a TD pass for the fifth straight game and wide receiver Michael Crabtree scored his first TD since returning from an Achilles’ injury in week 13. Kaepernick completed 19 of 29 passes for 203 yards, two touchdowns and no interceptions. He added to his passing game by running seven times for 39 yards.
The Seattle Seahawks shut the New York Giants out in a 23-0 win on the road, giving them a franchise best 6-2 record on the road this season. Running back Marshawn Lynch finished with just 47 yards on 16 carries, and supplied the first touchdown of the game. Lynch was a huge factor in the passing game with six receptions, tied for the most on the Seahawks, and his 73 receiving yards led the team. Doug Baldwin’s six catches led the Seahawks receivers and was a third of Seattle's passing offense against the Giants. The Seahawks have both of their remaining games at home, where they haven't lost a game since 2011.
With the upset victory against the Saints the St. Louis Rams move to 6-8 and inch closer to .500. The Rams beat the Saints 27-16 at home after losing by twenty to division rival Arizona last Sunday. When the Rams win the turnover batter they win every game, Two Drew Brees interceptions in the first quarter set up Rams touchdowns, and a successful onside kick resulted in a field goal and gave St. Louis a 17-0 lead only 5 seconds into the second quarter. Zac Stacy finished with 133 yards and a touchdown to keep the chains and the clock moving, keeping Brees on the bench. Drew Brees on the sideline is the key to winning against the Saints and the Rams did exactly that.
The Arizona Cardinals are winners of 6 out of 7, and the overtime win against the Tennessee Titans further inches them closer to playoff contention. The Cardinals scored 21 straight points in the second half, the last when Antoine Cason returned his first interception for a TD and a 34-17 lead. Rashard Mendenhall had his best game of the season, rushing for 69 yards and two touchdowns on 21 carries. After leading Tennessee 34-17 with 6:13 left in the game, The Titans scored 3 times to force overtime. Tennessee won the toss in overtime and drove to the Cardinals' 43 yard line before Cason made his second interception of the game to set up the game winning field goal after a couple first downs.
The 49ers continue to be one of the most penalized teams in the NFL. With eight penalties for 62 yards how disciplined are they really? Kaepernick constantly blows time-outs and can never seem to find the play clock until there is two seconds left. The clock management skills are going to have to improve if San Francisco plans on heading anywhere in the postseason. Head coach Jim Harbaugh was quick to challenge the ref’s calls; he threw his red flag early on the Bucs first drive and lost the challenge and a time-out and on the next 49er possession Kaepernick burned another and were left with only one until the second half.
The Seattle Seahawks have yet to clinch home-field advantage throughout the NFC playoffs. The Seahawks now need just one win, or a 49er loss, in the final two weeks of the season to clinch home-field. Russell Wilson was off-target on a number of throws in the win, including missing open tight end Zach Miller in the end zone. Wilson held the ball too long often leading to three of the Giants four sacks. With four sacks the Seattle offensive line still have room to improve moving forward into the postseason.
This game could have been messy, shortly after a 40 yard run by Zac Stacy Saints quarterback Drew Brees drove New Orleans down to the red zone at the end of the first half. A potential touchdown was called back by a penalty, that score would have made the game 10-24 at the half; only a two possession game. Considering that the Saints were the only team to score a touchdown after the first half, this game could have easily been tied at 24 and in New Orleans hands. Kellen Clemens only threw for 158 yards, not a huge game but no turnovers and added two touchdowns.
The Titans scored 17 points in the final 3:12 of regulation with no timeouts left to force overtime with Ryan Fitzpatrick throwing two of his four TD passes to Michael Preston. Tennessee also recovered an onside kick to set up the tying TD with 10 seconds left in regulation. As good as Arizona's defense is I still don’t see how this game was as close as it was. Antoine Cason was the MVP of the game as he literally supplied the only presence there was. Arizona shut down their defense and could have lost this game without Casons interception in overtime.
With the re-emergence of Michael Crabtree you would think the passing game would increase rapidly right? Well slowly it has but the key word was slow, Anquan Boldin failed to break 50 yards receiving and only caught less than half of his targets 3-8. Boldin has failed to score a touchdown in the last games after scoring three touchdowns in his previous two games. On Sunday, receiver Mario Manningham only came up with two yards on two targets out of 29 passing attempts on the day from Kaepernick.
Golden Tate had dropped more passes than he had catches, finishing the game with two receptions and three drops. Seattle's tandem at tight end combined for only three catches for 31 yards but were both essential in blocking scenarios. Defensively the Seattle defense was furious; the only downside came from veteran defensive end Chris Clemons. After making a huge impact when he first returned from his knee injury earlier this season, his play has dropped off and he hasn't had the same impact for this defense that still needs his pass rushing skills to make a serious run at the Lombardi.
The Rams defense piled up four sacks but didn’t come up as big when they needed to on fourth downs throughout the game. The Saints were a perfect 4-4 on fourth down, completing and converting every attempt when they needed it. No turnovers but St. Louis lost the time of possession battle and reduced the average number of penalties in half with 4 for 30 yards. A relatively clean game early but the Ram defensive backs were lit up for 393 yards by Brees, but validated themselves by racking up two interceptions in the first quarter for the first time in a decade for Drew.
Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald suffered a concussion while attempting to recover an onside kick in the fourth quarter of Arizona's OT win over Tennessee. This is a big loss for the time being with Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd as the only two receiving threats on the team. Arizona will travel to Seattle to take on the Seahawks in next Sunday and then finishes the season at home against the 49ers. Fitzgerald needs to play in these games if Arizona has a hope of making it into the postseason playoffs. It doesn’t help when Andre Ellington (a running back) is leading the team with 87 receiving yards in the win, but no other receiver had more than 50 yards in the game.