By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
Outside of Arizona finding another way to waste a perfectly good performance from its defense, Week 13 in the NFC West was a bit out of the norm.
Then again, I suppose the fact that the 49ers and Rams came within 30 seconds of tying shouldn't come as a shock to us. The two teams broke even in their first meeting three weeks ago, after all.
Only in Week 10, Colin Kaepernick replaced an injured Alex Smith and helped the 49ers come from behind to force overtime. Sunday, it was Kaepernick who committed two costly mental mistakes that attributed greatly to the 16-13 overtime loss.
He was hardly the only one deserving blame for San Francisco, but as if the Bay Area QB controversy wasn't hot enough, Kaepernick's mistake-prone performance just set it ablaze.
Aside from the Rams pulling out the late win (and doing so without the services of WR Danny Amendola the entire game), Seattle brought the NFC West some positive results by finally coming through on the road.
Just when we thought it to be impossible, the Seahawks go into Chicago and slay the Bears 23-17 in overtime. The win moves Seattle to 7-5 and only 1 1/2 games behind the 49ers with four weeks remaining.
It appears the race is back on.
1. The football always seems to find its way into Janoris Jenkins' hands. (49ers vs. Rams)
First, I must say that the decision of the 49ers coaching staff to call a designed pitch play inside San Fran's 20-yard line with under four minutes remaining in 16-13 OT loss was probably the worst play-call of the weekend that didn't come from either an NFC East team or the Jets.
That much is obvious.
Regardless, the play was called. Colin Kaepernick faked an inside hand-off before rushing a pitch to Ted Ginn Jr. on 3rd-and-3 that sailed over Ginn's head. Janoris Jenkins, as if it would be anyone else, found himself headed right to where the ball was also going. The end zone.
Jenkins simply dove on the ball inside the 5-yard line and rolled into the end zone untouched as if he were on fire. That's probably because he is.
St. Louis pulled out a road win over Arizona last week after the rookie cornerback returned two interceptions for scores. Jenkins now has four defensive TDs in 2012 and three over the past two games.
But this one saved the Rams season. No doubt about it. St. Louis trailed 10-2 before the score and offensively were doing absolutely nothing. The first two points on the board for the Rams were awarded to them when Kaepernick threw the ball away from inside his own end zone on a pass that didn't cross the line of scrimmage.
Safety. Courtesy of the Rams' pass rush, which flustered the Kapper much of the game. Was benching Smith for Kaepernick the right decision? That inevitable question will be asked after every loss the 49ers suffer with a healthy Smith on the sidelines.
This week, the answer looked a no, abeit not an entirely convincing no. Smith likely wouldn't have committed such fatal mistakes, but the O-line wasn't doing much in run blocking or pass blocking.
At 5-6-1, St. Louis is, believe it or not, in the thick of the NFC Wild Card race. The Seahawks are in sole possession of the No. 6 seed, just 1 1/2 up on the Rams. They'll meet in Week 17 at CenturyLink Field in Seattle, too.
2. Russell Wilson is a man to be feared. (Seahawks vs. Bears)
Seattle just picked up the signature road win it had long been searching for.
At some point, defeating a quality opponent away from home is a must. Playoff hopes depend on it. The Seahawks' 23-17 overtime win taught us two things in particular.
One, Seattle's chances of qualifying for the postseason just went up a ton. 9-7 will likely take a wild card spot and the 'Hawks hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the 6-6 Vikings and 6-6 Cowboys. They now hold the tiebreaker over the 8-4 Bears as well, who are no longer a lock for a 10-win season.
Two, Russell Wilson is a legitimate NFL quarterback, and has been for over a month.
Wilson's passer rating of 104.9 became his fourth-straight of over 100 and third-straight of 96.8 or higher on the road. The third-round pick now has 17 TD passes to just eight interceptions in 2012 and an overall passer rating of 93.9.
Seattle climbed to No. 8 in Offensive Passer Rating after Week 12 and continues to rise.
Wilson's final line of 23-for-37 with 293 yards and 2 TDs may have been the most impressive of his young career. Not only was it on the road, but he tore apart the NFL's top pass defense, highlighted by a game-winning TD pass to Sidney Rice in OT.
Kaepernick had his way with Chicago two weeks prior, but the Bears are No. 1 in Defensive Passer Rating for a reason. They limit the passing game and force turnovers. Wilson, however, committed none. Marshawn Lynch's fumble was the Seahawks' lone giveaway.
3. The 49ers' lack of a three-game win streak reveals coaching and consistency concerns.
The 49ers have looked like play-calling geniuses at times, and fools in others.
It doesn't make a lot of sense, really. How can the same team that handled the Bears and red-hot Saints in convincing fashion look so stale against the Rams, who hadn't beaten a team outside of Arizona since Week 4?
Well, all was fine with the defense. In what was basically five quarters of football, San Fran allowed 293 yards of offense and no touchdowns. The Rams were missing Amendola in a big way and the Niners couldn't take advantage offensively.
The offensive line lost the battle in the trenches much of the night, but San Francisco's biggest concern came from the sidelines. Why would Jim Harbaugh allow—or even call—a pitch play late in the game inside his own 20? If so, why would it be to Ted Ginn Jr., who came into the game with one touch on offense all season?
Why was San Francisco so content with Sam Bradford eating up chunks of yards with his feet late in the game? The Rams' QB came into the game with 69 rushing yards and left with 100. 25 of his 31 rushing yards came on the drive that set up the game-tying FG to force overtime.
The Niners are the No. 1 team in Bendability, but that was hardly the time to be bending so voluntarily.
Losses to Minnesota and the Giants raised concerns of the 49ers in-game tactics as well. At 8-3-1, SF is still in the No. 2 seed by a half-game, but once again failed to put together a three-game winning streak.
4. Arizona has reached the lowest of lows. (Cardinals vs. Jets)
Is this even worth discussing again? The Cardinals' defense deserves so much better. Once again it forces a handful of turnovers—this time four of them—and Arizona loses the game.
This time by the ugly score of 7-6, and to the Jets of all teams.
Let's put it this way: You know you have yourself a great defense when it can convince Rex Ryan to bench Mark Sanchez. That actually happened. Sanchez threw three interceptions, and the Jets still win the game.
How so? Because Ken Whisenhunt feels Ryan Lindley gives the Cardinals the best chance to win.
Lindley completed 10 of his 31 passes for 72 yards and an interception. And Darrelle Revis wasn't even playing. Is that the best Whiz can do? Charlie Batch just beat the Ravens on the road for the Steelers, there must be a capable vet out there somewhere.
I'm sensing that it's a "Let's see if our sixth-round pick can play or not before we hit the offseason and have to find a real quarterback"-type of situation.
Which basically means that it's a lost cause anyway. Especially when you have the NFL's worst offensive line (No. 32 in our Offensive Hog Index). Now at eight games, this losing streak has picked up too much steam to stop now. It's unfortunate that the NFL's No. 2 pass defense (No. 2 in DPR heading into Week 13) will get little respect so long as it's partnered with an offense that can't seem to figure out which way is upfield.
Them's the breaks.
5. Looking ahead to Week 14.
Seattle will bust out its 5-0 home record at CenturyLink field Sunday when the 4-8 Cardinals come for a visit. Russell Wilson against one of the NFL's top pass defenses will make for a nice story (62.5 passer rating in first meeting), but Arizona will otherwise be outmatched by a large margin.
San Francisco has another good situation in hosting Miami in Week 14. It's been well-documented that the 49ers are undefeated (and dominant) following a loss with Harbaugh at the helm, and last Sunday's loss was a painful as any. No matter who's under center, the Niners should take this one.
The Rams take their ever-improving record to Buffalo to play a very beatable Bills team. The Bills have not looked impressive this season and none of their wins have come against quality opponents. If St. Louis can get to 6-6-1, it'll head back home to host the 6-6 Vikings in Week 15.