Now things get interesting for the Seahawks.
Seattle faces the toughest part of its rigorous schedule, the NFL’s thank-you gift for a Super Bowl season.
Next up is a Sunday road game at Kansas City (6-3), then a Nov. 23 home game against NFC West leader Arizona (8-1), the team with the NFL’s best record.
After that? A trip to San Francisco to face the back-from-the-grave 49ers (5-4) on Thanksgiving, a trip to Philadelphia (7-3) Dec. 7, then a home game against the 49ers on Dec. 14. Seattle finishes with a Sunday night game in Arizona on Dec. 21 and its traditional regular-season finale against the Rams (3-6), the only team with a losing record left on the schedule. That’s the same Rams team that stunned the Seahawks 28-26 on Oct. 19 in St. Louis.
That’s a tough road to the playoffs, but that’s exactly where the Seahawks would be if the season ended today. Seattle would earn the final NFC wild-card spot because it owns the tie-breaker after beating Green Bay (6-3) in the season opener.
Even though the Arizona Cardinals have a two-game lead over the Seahawks, the NFC West race is far from over. Carson Palmer learned Monday he has a season-ending knee injury. San Francisco saved its season with a 27-24 overtime win in New Orleans. The Seahawks are 6-3 after winning three straight.
With that in mind, here’s what the national media and major newspapers say about the NFC West in general, and the 49ers and Cardinals in particular.
I asked (Bruce) Arians how many more body blows his team could take and still keep ticking. Daryl Washington and Karlos Dansby at linebacker, gone. Darnell Dockett, gone. Calais Campbell, hobbled in October. Now the quarterback they’d built the offense around, most likely gone for the season. “It’s not gonna stop,” Arians said. “It’s football. There’s gonna be another one, I just don’t know who and when. That’s what we believe. We don’t let up, and we don’t make excuses.”
One more thing.
“We can win the Super Bowl with Drew Stanton,” Arians said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”
There seems to be something special about this Cardinals team. The 25-14 win over the Giants on Sept. 14, when Stanton completed 14-of-29 passes in his first NFL start since 2010, came at the expense of a New York team that couldn’t get out of its own way. It was the second win Arizona enjoyed after trailing in the fourth quarter; Sunday’s win over the Rams was the fourth this season.
“It goes to show the leadership we have in this locker room,” Peterson said after the Giants game. “We faced a lot of adversity. We let these games slip away last year, getting into the fourth quarter down. We didn’t know how to dig out of the hole. Now we understand how to win ballgames. How to finish out the fourth quarter. That’s what it’s all about.”
Half a season later, nothing seems to have changed for these Cardinals. We’ll see, however, how things spin forward if they have to reinvent themselves without plus-level quarterback play.
There are no upsides to Palmer’s injury, per se, but at least now he can freely speak his mind about what kind of team he thinks the Cardinals are. He said there’s “no doubt” they are still capable of winning the Super Bowl.
“Now, kind of being an outsider, not being able to be on the field, there’s no doubt,” he said. “What our defense did in the fourth quarter as soon as I went out, to turn around and score 14 points? That doesn’t happen.
“I was talking to a couple guys in the locker room. They just said, ‘Your air kind of gets blown out of you when you lose a player like that.’ He said it seemed like everybody just took a big breath in and turned it on, on defense and on offense, and that’s a Super Bowl team right there.”
At 5-4, it’s hard to say the 49ers are completely back. They are scoring only 21.4 points a game and giving up 22.4, a ratio indicative of an 8-8 or 7-9 team. The first-team offense has not had a touchdown drive in the fourth quarter all season. Things, however, look better ahead. Linebacker Aldon Smith, good for a sack a game, comes off the suspended list this week. The next four weeks feature games against the Giants, Redskins, Seahawks (at home on Thanksgiving) and Raiders, a chance to pick up maybe three wins.
More importantly, the 49ers got back to what they do best on offense — running the ball. Frank Gore had 81 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries. The team rushed for 144 yards and emphasized the more physical two-tight end and two-back sets.
The holding-on-for-dear-life stage seems to be coming to an end. After months of bombarding the 49ers, the storm over the franchise appears to be clearing up.
Sack specialist Aldon Smith’s suspension has ended. The Ray McDonald situation has been settled. Jim Harbaugh is hinting at defensive star NaVorro Bowman returning to practice.
And, on the field, the 49ers have never seemed more determined not to fail.
It looks as if they have survived the worst, barely. And they’re in position to now become the team many expected and opponents feared.
“I really feel like they played with as much heart,” Harbaugh said in his weekly news conference Monday, “as much hustle, as much fight as I’ve ever seen our teams play since I’ve been here.”
It was a big win for the 49ers in a must-win situation. A loss would have all but ended any chances the 49ers had at a division title. A loss would have also left San Francisco possibly sitting two games out for the final Wild Card spot in the NFC.
However, thanks to the win, Jim Harbaugh should be able to stay somewhat sane because the 49ers have a very navigable schedule. Three of San Francisco’s next four games are against the Giants, Redskins and Raiders and it wouldn’t be a shock to see the 49ers win all three.
The 49ers biggest challenge over the next four weeks will be against Seattle, but that’s game’s at home on Thanksgiving and all of the sudden, it looks very winnable. The 49ers could be 9-4 after their next four games and if that’s the case, we’ll be talking about their playoff seed instead of if they’re going to make the playoffs.
Apparently, there’s a spot reserved in the NFC title game for Harbaugh, until he says otherwise.
Palmer said he’ll be around every day, but he doesn’t have to. He’s closing in on 35, just signed a three-year, $50 million extension with a $20.5 million guarantee. No one would blame him for rehabbing on his own.
“I’m going to do everything I can in the quarterback room to help Drew out,” he said. “I’m going to do everything I can with the receivers. I’ve already started figuring out ways of when I can present kind of my coverage stuff and my blitz stuff and how I can help, because you want to help, but you don’t want to be in the way.”
Mike Florio and Jason Taylor discuss who they think the favorites are in the NFC West. Taylor thinks the 49ers’ schedule well for them, and Florio picks to the Cardinals.
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