The Seahawks have improbably taken control of the NFC with a 9-2 record built upon harrowing victories over the Giants and Cowboys. "I do believe this is our year," running back Shaun Alexander said. "We've played every game as though our backs were against the wall. We almost have to be desperate and not take losing as an option."
Losing was definitely an option Sunday as Giants kicker Jay Feely had three chances at the winning field goal. Feely missed from 40 yards as regulation expired. He missed from 54 and 45 yards during overtime. Perhaps this really is the Seahawks' season. "The kicker missed three right there for us to get a shot," Alexander said, "and we knew if we just got Josh (Brown) close, he would make it. That's good."
Brown has proven to be a clutch kicker since missing a late 47-yard try during an eventual overtime loss to Washington earlier in the season. He beat the Cowboys with a 55-yarder as time expired. And on Sunday, with a delirious Qwest Field crowd cheering him on, Brown drilled the game-winning 36-yarder in overtime.
Like the Cowboys, the Giants exposed Seattle's weaknesses. The Seahawks have been able to rack up enough yards to maintain their No. 1 ranking, but the passing game has clearly suffered from the absence of top receiver Darrell Jackson. The rapport between Jackson and quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has been well established in recent years. Hasselbeck hasn't had enough time to build a similar relationship with Joe Jurevicius and D.J. Hackett, even though both have made big plays at times (especially Jurevicius)
"Darrell will breathe life into our guys," Alexander said. "But what Joe and 'Hack' have done for our team, it's been amazing."
Josh Brown's 36-yard field goal deep into overtime lifted the Seahawks to a 24-21 victory over the Giants, but only after New York kicker Jay Feeley missed from 40, 54 and 45 yards. The Seahawks were fortunate to win the game given that New York held big advantages in first downs (25-17) and total yards (490-355).
The Giants hurt their cause with 16 penalties for 114 yards, including numerous false starts by the left side of the line. A sellout crowd of 67,102 made conditions rough on the Giants' offensive linemen.
Giants running back Tiki Barber became the first Seahawks opponent to top 100 yards on the ground. He carried 26 times for 151 yards (101 yards in regulation), with a clutch 49-yard run in overtime. But the repeated misses of Feely prevented the Giants from taking over the top spot in the NFC.
--In his Monday press conference, Mike Holmgren mentioned that LB Jamie Sharper (knee), WR Darrell Jackson (knee) and CB Kelly Herndon (knee) will miss Seattle's Monday night contest against the Eagles at Philadelphia.
--Holmgren also said that the NFL conferred with him and admitted at least one mistake on a reviewed play - Holmgren specifically mentioned the touchdown pass from Eli Manning to Jeremy Shockey with 1:07 left in the first half. Shockey took a 7-yard pass from Manning in the end zone, only to be hit hard by Seattle safety Marquand Manuel before both of his feet hit the ground. The touchdown was upheld on a booth review.
--RB Shaun Alexander carried 31 times for 110 yards and a touchdown Sunday. The Giants bottled up Alexander for most of the game, but they couldn't stop him during a 13-play, 80-yard touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter. Alexander carried four times for 40 yards on the drive. His 4-yard scoring run gave Seattle a 21-13 lead with 4:33 remaining.
--QB Matt Hasselbeck faced a hard pass rush for much of the game against the Giants, but he managed to find WR D.J. Hackett for a 38-yard overtime completion on second-and-2 from the Seattle 25. The play helped move Seattle into range for the winning field goal.
--K Josh Brown's 36-yard FG in overtime lifted Seattle to a 24-21 victory over the Giants. Brown's late heroics also lifted Seattle over Dallas in another critical NFC game earlier in the season. He has more than atoned for a 47-yard miss as regulation expired during an eventual overtime loss at Washington.
--DE Grant Wistrom turned in one of his best performances of the season Sunday. Wistrom disrupted the Giants offense several times throughout the game, allowing the Seahawks to hang close even though New York had its way offensively for most of the game.
--WR Joe Jurevicius caught eight passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns Sunday. He outfought defensive back Corey Webster to haul in a 35-yard touchdown pass early in the game, preventing a likely interception.
Quarterback Kurt Warner has played well enough this year that the Cardinals should be interested in re-signing him. Warner has looked sharp since returning to the starting lineup a month ago, and he's given the offense some stability. Warner's wife Brenda is expecting twins in December or January, and he's not anxious to move his family for the third time in three years.
"Sure, let's do it now," Warner said when asked if he was interested in a new contract in Arizona. "Why not? I'm ready. I still think we've got a good thing going here. I feel like we're going to get the corner turned at some point."
You have to look hard for positive signs in a 3-8 season, but there are some pieces in place. Receivers Anquan Boldin and Larry Fitzgerald are playing well, and Warner knows how to get them the ball. Running back J.J. Arrington is starting to show some promise after a slow, tentative start.
The offensive line needs work, although some of the replacement parts have played well lately.
Keeping Warner would be a step in the right direction. Backup Josh McCown will be an unrestricted free agent, and he's likely to leave at the end of the season. That leaves John Navarre as the only quarterback under contract in 2006.
Warner would like to play two or three more years, and Arizona would be the perfect place to do it. He could start for another year or two until the team develops a young quarterback.
The Cardinals made too many mistakes, most notably 11 penalties, to have a chance against a decent team like Jacksonville. Those penalties, combined with allowing the Jaguars' big plays, contributed heavily to Arizona's 24-17 loss Sunday.
The Cardinals had just 90 yards of offense in the first half but got on track in the second with 278 yards. But they couldn't make big plays to score. Jacksonville made the Cardinals work for everything. Defensively, the Cardinals knocked out Jaguars quarterback Byron Leftwich in the first quarter, the second straight week they've been able to knock out a starting QB.
--K Neil Rackers is no longer perfect. His 32nd field-goal attempt of the season, a 43-yard try Sunday against Jacksonville, went wide left. It was his first miss this season, ending his streak of 31 straight. The wind was swirling, but Rackers didn't make excuses. "It was me. I missed the kick. I pulled it a little bit," he said.
--CB Antrel Rolle is expected to work out at the team's facility in Tempe, Ariz., after spending most of the past two months in Miami. Rolle underwent knee surgery in October and was doing rehab in Florida. He is not on injured reserve, and he's hopeful of playing within a couple of weeks.
--SS Adrian Wilson blitzed a considerable amount Sunday for the second straight week. Wilson is more effective playing close to the line of scrimmage, especially against the run. He's blitzed a high percentage of the time the past two weeks and has 14 tackles and three sacks.
--The interior offensive line might be able to hold up while it waits for injured players to return. Backup guards Adam Haayer and Fred Wakefield played well against Jacksonville despite playing out of position. Both are more comfortable at tackle.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Nothing was said after the game, but it would be shocking if rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the starting quarterback this week when the Rams host the Washington Redskins. The rookie seventh-round pick from Harvard, who won the team's third-string job in training camp, came off the bench Sunday to replace an injured Jamie Martin and led the Rams to an improbable 33-27 overtime win over the Houston Texans.
The Rams trailed 24-3 at halftime and had been outgained by the Texans 237-117. Fitzpatrick entered the game in the second quarter and led the Rams to their only points of the half. In the third and fourth quarters, he passed for 179 yards and added 86 in overtime to go with three touchdown passes. Most notably, Fitzgerald came through in clutch situations, and he ran for 23 yards on three attempts to aid the comeback.
Said interim coach Joe Vitt, "I don't think you can say enough. He was under duress a lot. Most of the time, all day, the Texans showed some different looks. It's what we talk about all week long in practice. He's got poise, he's got intelligence, he's got a strong arm, he's got great feet, and he's got the ability to make the impromptu play."
In the second half, Fitzpatrick completed four of six passes for 59 yards and three first downs on third down. One was a 19-yard touchdown to Torry Holt. He also ran for a first down on third-and-10, hit wide receiver Isaac Bruce for a 43-yard touchdown pass on fourth-and-6, and the Texans were guilty of a 35-yard pass interference penalty on third-and-3.
The touchdown to Bruce cut Houston's lead to 27-24 with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. But the biggest third-down success might have been an 11-yard completion to Holt on third-and-9 from the Rams 11-yard line in overtime. Fitzpatrick exuded a confidence that was difficult to explain. He said, "I knew there was no way we were going to lose that game. You get that feeling out there of invincibility, the way the offense was playing late and the way people stepped up out there."
Said wide receiver Kevin Curtis, whose only catch of the game was the 56-yard game-winner in overtime, "He came in and acted like he's done it before. He wasn't nervous. He just came in and played the game."
Added right guard Adam Timmerman, "He did a great job. He definitely deserves a lot of credit. He has a lot of poise. He has great presence. We cranked out some plays and were moving down the field. He knew where guys were going to be. It was a couple of times where he could have done better, but he came back and redeemed himself."
As did the Rams.
The Rams scored 17 points in the fourth quarter, including 10 in the last 26 seconds, to overcome a 24-3 deficit and defeat the Texans, 33-27 in overtime. Despite the heroics of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, the overtime wouldn't have happened had kicker Jeff Wilkins not perfectly hit an onside kick after the Rams had cut the Texans' lead to 27-24 with 26 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter. Wilkins bounced the kick high, and two Rams hit a Texans player as he jumped for the ball, which rolled off the back of Trev Faulk before being recovered by Torry Holt at the Houston 48-yard line.
A 19-yard completion set the stage for a Wilkins' 47-yard field goal that tied the game with four seconds remaining.
--QB Jamie Martin left the game in the second quarter with what was first said to be a concussion, but later explained as blurred vision. Martin went to a Houston hospital, but he returned and flew back to St. Louis with the team.
--LT Orlando Pace, who missed practice for two days with a hamstring injury, started Sunday against Houston but didn't play in the second half after aggravating the injury in addition to hurting his hip compensating for the injury.
--OT Alex Barron, who started the game against Houston on the right side, switched to left tackle in the second half after starter Orlando Pace left with hamstring and hip injuries.
--OT Rex Tucker played the second half at right tackle when Alex Barron was moved to left tackle after Orlando Pace left the game with hamstring and hip injuries.
--OT Matt Morgan was added to the roster on Saturday and was active for the game against Houston as a precaution. Morgan was the next tackle off the bench after Orlando Pace couldn't play in the second half.
--RB/KR David Allen was a surprise inactive for Sunday's game against Houston. Allen had given some life to the team's return game, but injuries on the offensive line and forced the Rams to have an extra lineman active for the game.
--WR Dominique Thompson was placed on waivers Friday, but the Rams hope to add him to the practice squad if he clears waivers Monday.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
Outside the 49ers' locker room hangs a banner that reads: "Win the West." The 49ers (2-9) will not compete for the NFC West title this season, but coach Mike Nolan said he is not taking the banner down. After all, he said, the sign does not state which year he is talking about. The 49ers might be building for the future, but Nolan said he the best way to get the team in position to make some noise next season is to take care of business in the final five games of this season.
"The future is today," Nolan said. "Everything we do today will lead to what will happen in the future."
The 49ers face the Cardinals on Sunday, and Nolan was contemplating a change at quarterback. Third-year player Ken Dorsey started the past two games because Nolan said he believes Dorsey gave the team the best chance to win. But Nolan also wants to get rookie Alex Smith back on the field to gain some valuable experience.
"The future is Alex, to some degree, but right now it's about winning," Nolan said. "I have 10 other guys who want to win and see themselves getting better with that goal in mind. If I pull that goal away from those guys, that takes away from what they want to do to begin with."
The 49ers have lost four consecutive games, and three of their final five games are on the road. The 49ers are in danger of owning the No. 1 pick in the draft for a second consecutive season. Nolan said he is not going to just play younger players for the sake of getting them experience. He said when a change has been made to go young, it has been because of injuries or because he believes the inexperienced player will make the club better.
The 49ers had breakdowns in every phase of the game in their 33-22 loss to the Titans at The Coliseum in Nashville, Tenn. Leading 14-9 early in the third quarter, rookie return man Otis Amey muffed a punt that the Titans turned into a 41-yard touchdown pass from Steve McNair to running back Chris Brown on the next play. The Titans outscored the 49ers 21-0 in the third quarter.
The 49ers offense struggled during one eight-series stretch, gaining just 33 yards on 20 plays with no first downs and two Ken Dorsey interceptions.
--CB Ahmed Plummer, who missed seven games after arthroscopic ankle surgery, dressed for Sunday's game against the Titans but did not play. He is not expected to regain his starting job from second-year player Bruce Thornton.
--RB Kevan Barlow had 40 yards rushing on 14 carries against Tennessee but had an impressive 75-yard scoring run nullified because of RT Kwame Harris' holding penalty.
--CB Shawntae Spencer returned an interception 61 yards for a touchdown against the Titans and had a career-high five passes defensed.
--K Joe Nedney missed the Tennessee game with a groin strain, a condition he has been nursing most of the season. His availability for the Cardinals game is in doubt. The 49ers will stick with Jose Cortez to handle the kicking chores if Nedney is not ready, coach Mike Nolan said.
--WR Arnaz Battle is healthy after begin bothered by a right knee sprain for most of the past seven games. Battle had seven catches for 75 yards and a touchdown against the Titans.
--LT Adam Snyder had a rough opening at Tennessee, getting called for a false start and then getting beaten badly in pass protection on two of the first three plays. But Snyder settled down and played much better after making some pass-set adjustments, he said.