The Kingdome is gone forever, but the Seahawks are starting to recapture the home-field advantage that made the place so difficult on opponents years ago. Seattle has won 20 of its past 23 regular-season home games, and the crowd was never more of a factor than it was Sunday against the Giants. With a sellout gathering of 67,000-plus fans rocking Qwest Field, the Seahawks forced the Giants into 11 false-start penalties. Visitors to Qwest Field had committed 10 such penalties in five previous home games this season. The Giants cited crowd noise as the reason they had so much trouble getting off the ball at the right time.
Coach Mike Holmgren rewarded the fans' efforts Monday by bringing a game ball to his press conference and setting it aside for fans. The ball he brought was the one Josh Brown sent through the uprights for the winning 36-yard field goal in overtime. "It was loud," Holmgren said. "Our folks were in it from the get-go, and they stayed in it until the very end. That was great.
"That is what you need for a home-field advantage. Home field has always been very, very important to me. I stressed it in Green Bay; we had a great record at home in Lambeau. We're starting a great record here, and it has a lot to do with the fans."
The Seahawks have a few issues on both sides of the ball. The absence of leading wide receiver Darrell Jackson has allowed some of the better defenses to gang up on the ground game, leading to more three-and-out series by Seattle. That has put more pressure on a defense that has so far managed to bend without breaking too often.
Home-field advantage throughout the playoffs could be crucial for the Seahawks as they try to win a playoff game for the first time in two decades. Seattle leads the NFC at 9-2. Victories over the Giants and Cowboys could prove critical if home-field advantage comes down to the tiebreaker. "For guys that play in this league and coach in this league, (home field) is what you strive for because it's very, very important," Holmgren said. "I'm not going to dive into that. We're still going to take them a game at a time."
--One day after Seattle "escaped" with a victory over the Giants, the NFL admitted errors that should have been corrected by instant replay. "I had a quick conversation with the league, and there were some mistakes that took place, which we felt at the time," Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren said. "I get excited about it just like any coach would, particularly if you think it cost you the ballgame.
"But the fact is, it's a tough job. The officials have a tough job. They are honest guys doing the best they can."
Specifically, Giants tight end Jeremy Shockey did not get both feet down in the end zone before Seahawks free safety Marquand Manuel knocked the ball free with a big hit. Officials reviewed the play but the play was allowed to stand as a touchdown.
--The notion seems silly now that Seattle is 9-2 and leading the NFC, but there were times in recent seasons when some wondered if the Seahawks might fire Holmgren. One of Holmgren's former assistants received a pink slip Monday when the Lions fired Steve Mariucci. Holmgren said he doesn't plan to call his former understudy, at least not in the near future.
"I probably will, but not right away," Holmgren said. "I am trying to put myself in that situation, and while you understand the intention, I wouldn't feel like talking to anybody for a while."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Darrell Jackson could resume practicing this week, coach Mike Holmgren said Monday, but the Seahawks do not expect to have him before a Dec. 11 game against San Francisco. Jackson is recovering from knee surgery.
--LB Jamie Sharper remains sidelined by an infected knee. The Seahawks expect him to miss at least another game or two.
--CB Kelly Herndon could miss two to three games after suffering a sprained MCL in his left knee Sunday.
--CB Andre Dyson will take back his starting job now that Kelly Herndon is sidelined by a knee injury. Dyson had lost his job after suffering a hamstring injury.
--TE Jerramy Stevens is expected to become more involved in the offense as the season continues. Stevens did not make a catch Sunday. He got fewer snaps because the team wanted TE Ryan Hannam's superior blocking on the field in some situations.
REPORT CARD VS. GIANTS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-minus -- QB Matt Hasselbeck has had better days, but he did manage to put his team in position for the winning field goal in overtime. Hasselbeck's 38-yard pass to WR D.J. Hackett came out of the blue on a day when the Giants beat him up with sacks and other hits. WR Joe Jurevicius made huge plays against his former team. He caught eight passes for 137 yards and two touchdowns and gave Seattle an early lead with a leaping grab for a 35-yard TD. LT Walter Jones uncharacteristically had some problems in pass protection, and RT Sean Locklear needed help against DE Michael Strahan.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- RB Shaun Alexander found little room to run against a Giants defense that was determined to shut down the NFL's leading rusher. Seattle likes to set up the run with the pass, but that wasn't easy because the Seahawks aren't the same team without injured WR Darrell Jackson. Good defenses take advantage of Jackson's absence by pressing the remaining receivers and loading up against the run. Alexander ran hard and made some clutch runs, including a 4-yard TD on fourth-and-inches. He set up another touchdown with a 20-yard run around the left side.
PASS DEFENSE: D-plus -- DT Rocky Bernard collected another sack, giving him 8 1/2 for the season, but too often the Seahawks gave up key pass plays downfield. They roughed up Giants TE Jeremy Shockey but could not stop him from catching 10 passes for 127 yards and a touchdown. Seattle did force Giants QB Eli Manning into some poor throws, including one that SS Michael Boulware intercepted. The feeling was that a more experienced Manning would have turned a couple of those errant throws into big plays.
RUSH DEFENSE: B-minus -- The final numbers look uglier than the reality. Giants RB Tiki Barber became the first Seattle opponent to top 100 yards this season. He finished with 151 yards on 26 carries. Barber had a 15-yard run to start the game and a 49-yarder in overtime. The Giants turned those 64 yards into zero points. Seattle definitely missed injured DT Marcus Tubbs. Without him, the Giants were productive enough in the run game to open up other opportunities.
SPECIAL TEAMS: B -- K Josh Brown hit the winning 36-yard field goal in overtime after the Giants missed three times. That play was huge, but the Seahawks still allowed a 32-yard kickoff return in a clutch situation that demanded better. P Tom Rouen averaged 45.6 yards per punt with two of nine downed inside the 20. RB Josh Scobey averaged only 19.7 yards per kick return.
COACHING: B+ -- Coach Mike Holmgren wisely called timeout during overtime when it appeared the replay official would not review a 10-yard pass to Shockey. The timeout gave the replay official time to change his mind. The reception was reversed upon review, and the Giants wound up missing a 54-yard field goal. The quick thinking helped Seattle win the game.
Receiver Anquan Boldin is mad, frustrated and still simmering Monday from what he considered poor officiating in a 24-17 loss to Jacksonville. Boldin thought the Jaguars secondary got away with several plays that should have drawn penalties Sunday. The Cardinals lost their composure in the loss, with 11 penalties for 105 yards. Boldin twice was called for personal fouls, once for flinging cornerback Terry Cousin to the ground and once for removing his helmet to show his disapproval that interference or illegal contact wasn't called.
"Honestly, I watched film today, and a lot of this stuff is pathetic, just to say the least," Boldin said Monday. "There were times they (the officials) were right there. I can see if it was a situation where they were blocked or really couldn't see. You had a plain view."
Coach Dennis Green didn't seem to disagree. He was asked if it was true that the Cardinals don't get calls from the officials. "I think it's pretty obvious to anybody that watches television and hears the commentators," he said.
The Cardinals are the fourth most penalized team in the league and have been called for 23 penalties in the past two weeks. "Obviously, we did some things we weren't supposed to do," Green said. "We made mistakes. All of that's true, but if you are going to hold everybody accountable, hold everybody accountable."
When asked if a lack of discipline played a part in the penalties, Green said he has never used the word "discipline" in his years as a coach. "I think most players play hard," he said. "I think some guys get excitable about it, guys disagree with some of the calls. Guys feel that the play that they could have made, they didn't get a chance to because of the defense that was against them, and reacted in what I would consider a negative fashion because it takes you out of your game. You can't be yelling at the officials and all those other things.
"Penalties hurt us, and I think our guys understand it. But they're high-strung, and they should be high-strung. I don't think you can be successful without being high-strung.
"I think (Sunday), it didn't help us."
--Cornerback Antrel Rolle returned to Phoenix last week after spending most of the past two months away while rehabilitating his knee injury.
Rolle was injured in the second game of the season and hasn't played since the third game of the season. He had torn meniscus repaired, normally an eight- to 12-week injury. The team didn't place him on injured reserve, hoping he would be able to return late this year.
If he progresses in the next few weeks while working with trainers, the Cardinals are hopeful he can play the final two or three games.
--Kicker Neil Rackers struggled a little with the swirling winds Sunday at Sun Devil Stadium, missing his first field goal of the season. Rackers had made all 31 attempts this season until missing one in the fourth quarter against Jacksonville.
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--WR Bryant Johnson's injured right shoulder made remarkable progress last week and he was able to play against Jacksonville. Johnson wasn't supposed to play Sunday unless there was an emergency, but he was pressed into duty in the fourth quarter. He responded with five catches for 77 yards, including one that set up a touchdown.
REPORT CARD VS. JAGUARS
PASSING OFFENSE: C -- Kurt Warner passed for 300 yards again, but most of that came after the team was down by two touchdowns. In the first half, the Cardinals had just 90 yards of total offense.
RUSHING OFFENSE: C -- The Cardinals fell behind early and ran the ball just 16 times. The production was decent, but circumstances prevented the team from staying with it.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- Jacksonville didn't get much production out of its passing game, but the Cardinals didn't make any big plays against it, either. No sacks and no interceptions.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- It was decent, but they gave up too many big runs, including two that went for touchdowns.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- Neil Rackers missed his first field goal, and Jacksonville scored on a 91-yard kick return.
COACHING: D -- The Cardinals hit double digits in penalties again, indicating a lack of discipline. Dennis Green shouldn't put up with players losing their cool and drawing personal fouls.
ST. LOUIS RAMS
Saturday night at the Rams' hotel in Houston, interim coach Joe Vitt showed the team highlights from last season's come-from-behind win on the road at Seattle.
"I don't know, Joe might be a little prophet or something," linebacker Trev Faulk said. "It's too strange for him to show us that." It wasn't as if Vitt was predicting the Rams would duplicate that against the Texans. He was simply trying to convey the message that no matter how bad things appear, there is always hope. So it was that the Rams fell behind the Texans 24-3 at halftime, and then scored 10 points in the last 30 seconds of the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime. Eerily, the final score of 33-27 was the same overtime score for that win in Seattle. Of course, the major differences were rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick being at quarterback this time instead of Marc Bulger, and the fact that the Rams needed a successful onside kick to get the ball back to tie.
This time, kicker Jeff Wilkins made a 47-yard field goal to send the game to overtime. Last year against Seattle, it was a 36-yard kick. This time, wide receiver Kevin Curtis scored on a 56-yard pass play to win the game. Last year, it was 52-yard pass to Shaun McDonald. "This might top it," guard Adam Timmerman said.
Mostly, it was because of the play of Fitzpatrick, who replaced backup Jamie Martin in the first quarter after Martin experienced blurred vision following a sack.
Asked about any big comebacks he'd engineered in college at Harvard, Fitzpatrick said, "Yeah, my first time I ever played at Harvard was against Princeton. I came in down, and we won the game. And then my next game, which was my first start, we were down I think 21-0 at halftime to Dartmouth and we came back to win."
The matter-of-fact way Fitzpatrick plays belies his status as a rookie seventh-round pick. But the players notice. Said Curtis, whose only catch of the game was the game-winner, "He came in and acted like he's done it before. He wasn't nervous. He just came in and played the game."
Added 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."
Fitzpatrick exhibited the same traits he did in the preseason when he beat out Jeff Smoker for the No. 3 job. "I don't think you can say enough," Vitt said. "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."
Most notably, Fitzgerald came through in clutch situations and also ran for 23 yards on three attempts to aid the comeback. 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. That kept the possession alive, and two plays later Curtis streaked to the end zone after a quick hitch pass to the left.
Fitzpatrick exuded a confidence that was difficult to explain. He said, "You've always got a chance. The biggest thing when you're in those situations, you need to get everybody around you fired up. I knew there was no way we were going to lose that game. You sort of get that feeling of invincibility, with the way the offense was playing late and the way the defense really stepped up." As for the coming week against Washington, Vitt wasn't ready to publicly state who would start at quarterback. Martin was visiting an ophthalmologist Monday to check his continued blurred vision.
Asked whether Fitzpatrick would get the first start of his career Sunday, Vitt said, "I'm not here to discuss that right now. We'll wait and see."
--Quarterback Jamie Martin left the game Sunday in the first quarter because of blurred vision after a sack. It was first announced that Martin had suffered a concussion. "He didn't get a concussion, but he took a hard hit and had some blurred vision," interim head coach Joe Vitt said.
Martin went to a Houston hospital, then got back in time to see rookie Ryan Fitzpatrick throw the winning touchdown pass to Kevin Curtis.
"They were worried about it being part of the eye, the retina, because my vision was gone," Martin said. "They just wanted to make sure it was safe to fly home. "
--Left tackle Orlando Pace missed some practice time before the game against Houston because of a hamstring injury. He played the first half against the Texans, then sat out the second half. "I think I re-aggravated it a little bit," Pace said. "And I have a hip flexor, or something like that. I think I was trying to overcompensate for the hamstring, and ended up kind of banging my hip up a little bit. I could barely move out there. So they thought it was best for me to sit out the second half." Pace had an MRI Monday, but the results were not immediately known.
--Chris Claiborne not only was benched for Sunday's game against Houston, but he never got on the field after being signed in the offseason to be the team's starting middle linebacker. Replacing him was Trev Faulk. "He's a little bit quicker," interim coach Joe Vitt said of Faulk. "Has a little bit better range. Technically, he has to work on some technique things now. He has to play with a better pad level and better footwork. We got more production out of that position (Sunday). We haven't shut the door on Chris. Chris is going to get more work next week.
"At this point, when we played (Sunday), we're going to do whatever we can to put our best 11 players on both sides of the ball out there. We're going to judge that on how they do in practice. If you perform well in practice, then you're going to get the chance to play. If not, it's the next guy's turn."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--QB Jamie Martin, who experienced blurred vision Sunday after a sack, visited an ophthalmologist Monday for further tests.
--LT Orlando Pace underwent an MRI Monday after aggravating a hamstring injury along with suffering a hip flexor.
--SS Adam Archuleta did not play Sunday because of a concussion suffered the previous week against Arizona. Archuleta visited a specialist in Los Angeles last Friday, and experienced some headaches standing on the sideline Sunday.
--CB DeJuan Groce, who was inactive Sunday because of a concussion, is expected to be available for the game against Washington.
--MLB Trev Faulk started Sunday for the first time this season, and played well. He replaced Chris Claiborne and is expected to start again against Washington.
--MLB Chris Claiborne was replaced as the starter Sunday against Houston by Trev Faulk, and did not play in the game. Coaches believed the defense's production would be better with Faulk.
REPORT CARD VS. TEXANS
PASSING OFFENSE: B-plus -- Rookie QB Ryan Fitzpatrick made his season debut in relief of Jamie Martin and threw three touchdown passes, guiding the Rams to a 33-27 overtime victory. Fitzpatrick had a passer rating of 117.4, and 105 of his 310 yards came after an onside kick recovery late in the fourth quarter. Pass protection was again a problem, as Martin and Fitzpatrick were sacked a total of seven times.
RUSHING OFFENSE: B -- RB Steven Jackson had 110 yards on 25 carries one week after being stuffed by the Cardinals. Jackson scored on a 1-yard run, two plays after it appeared he fumbled at the goal line, but officials ruled him down by contact.
PASS DEFENSE: C -- A tale of two halves. In the first half, QB David Carr completed 13 of 17 passes for 171 yards and three touchdowns, and also rushed three times for 28 yards. His first-half passer rating was 147.3. In the second half, Carr did complete 12 of 17 passes, but for only 122 yards and no touchdowns, and he rushed once for 11 yards. CB Chris Johnson competed better in the second half, and the Rams improved on third down. In the first half, the Texans were 5-of-7 on third down. They were 2-of-6 in the second half.
RUSH DEFENSE: B -- A run defense that had been gashed numerous times this season allowed just 88 yards on 26 carries by Texans running backs. Domanick Davis had 78 yards, but he needed 25 attempts to do it.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A -- There was enough bad not to give this grade, but the excellence of PK Jeff Wilkins and his responsibility for the victory has to be recognized. In a span of about 30 seconds at the end of the fourth quarter and at the start of overtime, Wilkins hit an onside kick perfectly, made a 47-yard field goal to tie the game with four seconds remaining and then drilled the overtime kickoff into the end zone. The bad? An offside penalty by Chris Johnson on a first-half kickoff cost the Rams a fumble recovery and led to a Houston touchdown after a 40-yard return. The return game for the Rams was poor, as Terry Fair averaged 17.0 yards on four kickoff returns. But Wilkins overcame it all.
COACHING: A -- Give idle coach Mike Martz an assist for this victory. Martz is as responsible as anyone for Fitzpatrick performing as he did. Interim coach Joe Vitt continues to preach individual responsibility, and while it took until the second half, perhaps the message is getting through.
SAN FRANCISCO 49ERS
The 49ers will make changes at two of the team's most pivotal offensive positions this week. Coach Mike Nolan announced Monday that rookie Alex Smith will take over at quarterback for Ken Dorsey, and center Jeremy Newberry will be placed on injured reserve to have microfracture surgery performed on his right knee.
Smith missed the past five games after sustaining a right knee sprain Oct. 23 against the Redskins. Ken Dorsey and Cody Pickett got starts in his place. But after the 49ers' 33-22 loss to the Titans, Nolan said the time has come to get Smith back on the field. "With him healthy, it's an opportunity to get him back on the field and get him to begin that maturing at the 60 mph pace instead of that 15 mph pace that you get by watching," Nolan said at his weekly press conference.
Dorsey has been the 49ers' best quarterback this season, but obviously Smith is the player the 49ers are counting upon to be the future at that position. Smith was the top overall pick in the draft. "We didn't draft Alex to be our savior, we drafted Alex for him to be the best quarterback on our football team and would execute our offense in a way that we'd be good," Nolan said. "That's just how I look at the quarterback position."
The change at quarterback comes at a time when Newberry finally decided to cut his season short and have surgery. Newberry missed one game with a painful condition in which he has virtually no cartilage remaining in his knee. The thinking is that Newberry can have the surgery now and be ready for next season. Also, it'll give the 49ers' younger linemen a chance to get on the field. Eric Heitmann moves from right guard to center, while rookie David Baas is scheduled to play right guard. When the 49ers play the Cardinals on Sunday at Monster Park, it'll be Baas' first career start.
"It's (Newberry's) decision," Nolan said. "His knee buckled a couple times (Sunday) on him. It's an extremely difficult decision, but going forward this week or next is the best time to get his knee worked on, so the time clock in the future is better for him."
--After playing impressively in his debut at left tackle a week earlier, rookie left tackle Adam Snyder struggled early in Sunday's game against the Titans.
Snyder was called for a false start before the first play of the game, then defensive end Travis LaBoy got around him to for a big hit on quarterback Ken Dorsey on the next play. Snyder surrendered a sack two plays later. But Snyder settled down as the game went on. "I started out real rough," Snyder said. "I needed to get my head back in it. I felt I got a handle on it after the first quarter."
--The 49ers need to start making some plays, and nobody knows that better than linebacker Julian Peterson, who holds himself accountable. Peterson missed a tackle on a screen pass that went for Chris Brown's 41-yard touchdown. He also failed on a opportunity to intercept a pass and return it for a touchdown. Peterson thought he had a great chance to make the interception, but instead he gave up a 12-yard completion on the play. "I got to make plays like that," Peterson said. "My teammates depend on me to make plays like that."
--Even after kicker Jose Cortez missed a 34-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter at Tennessee, coach Mike Nolan said he would stick with him as long as regular kicker Joe Nedney is out with a groin strain. "I wouldn't say it was deflating, but it got my attention," Nolan said of Cortez's miss. "He's got a strong leg, and he certainly kicked off well. The field goal was a disappointment that he missed it."
STRATEGY AND PERSONNEL
PLAYER PERSONNEL NOTES
--C Jeremy Newberry was placed on injured reserve, bringing his season to an end. Newberry has battled a painful knee injury that required pain-killing injections to play in games. He has not practiced since the first week of the regular season.
--C Eric Heitmann will take over as the starter in place of Jeremy Newberry, who will finish the season on injured reserve. Heitmann started 10 games at right guard and one game at center when Newberry was given a rest a couple of weeks ago.
--RG David Baas, the 49ers' second-round draft, will get his first career start Sunday against the Cardinals. Baas was expected to be a starter at the beginning of the season, but he missed almost all of training camp with a torn hamstring, setting back his development.
--QB Alex Smith returns to the starting lineup Sunday against the Cardinals, coach Mike Nolan announced. Smith has not played since sustaining a right knee sprain Oct. 23 against the Redskins.
--QB Ken Dorsey has shown that he has the potential to be a solid NFL backup, based on his hard-luck performances in recent weeks. Dorsey has compiled a passer rating of 66.9. One of his interceptions Sunday came on a pass that bounced off TE Billy Bajema's chest. The other one came on a deep ball on which WR Brandon Lloyd fell down.
REPORT CARD VS. TITANS
PASSING OFFENSE: D -- QB Ken Dorsey is not entirely to blame for this mess. He did not receive much pass protection, and there was bad fortune on both of his interceptions. The first pick came when TE Billy Bajema had a perfectly thrown ball bounce off his chest and into the hands of LB Keith Bulluck. The second interception occurred after WR Brandon Lloyd fell while running his route. Dorsey completed 23 of 43 passes for 192 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions. WR Arnaz Battle got back into the offense with seven catches for 75 yards and a score.
RUSHING OFFENSE: D-minus -- Things might have been a lot different if RT Kwame Harris had not been flagged for holding, thus nullifying Kevan Barlow's 75-yard scoring run. Barlow finished with 40 yards on 14 carries. Backup Maurice Hicks provided a change of pace with 30 yards on six carries.
PASS DEFENSE: F -- Aside from Shawntae Spencer's 61-yard interception return for a touchdown, the pass defense was as bad as it has been this season. Titans QB Steve McNair passed for 343 yards and three touchdowns. It was the worst performance from the 49ers' pass defense since the fourth game of the season when CB Bruce Thornton joined the starting lineup. Thornton had his worst game of the season.
RUSH DEFENSE: C -- The 49ers' front seven missed DE Bryant Young, who is out of action with a right knee injury. The 49ers had a tough time putting the clamps on Travis Henry, who gained 86 yards on 13 carries. The 49ers did a pretty good job on starter Chris Brown, who was held to 30 yards on 10 rushes.
SPECIAL TEAMS: F -- The 49ers committed a turnover in their kicking game for the third consecutive game. Return man Otis Amey made a poor decision to run up on a punt in the third quarter that bounced into him. The Titans recovered and scored a touchdown on the next play. The 49ers also missed Joe Nedney, who sat out with a groin injury. Fill-in Jose Cortez missed a 34-yard field goal that would've been the game's first score.
COACHING: D-minus -- Offensive coordinator Mike McCarthy stayed with a vanilla attack on offense when the 49ers fell behind in the third quarter. Aside from a play in which Arnaz Battle ran the option, there was not a lot of imagination in the play-calling. The 49ers should have been able to put up a better showing against a team on their level.