By Brandon Burnett
Cold, Hard Football Facts Wizard of the NFC West (@B_Burnett49er)
We expected Seattle to beat the living snot out of the Cardinals in Week 14. By the score of 58-0, though?
Get outta here.
The Seahawks' trouncing of Arizona served as a fitting outcome for two NFC West teams trending in entirely different directions.
The worst loss in Cardinals' franchise history quite possibly also signified the end of the Ken Whisenhunt era in the desert.
Seattle, whose afternoon couldn't possibly have been any more delightful, enjoyed the highest-scoring game it its history. Not only was it the Seahawks' largest winning margin in any shutout, their 58 points bested the team's previous high of 56, which came in a 56-17 win over the Buffalo Bills in 1977.
Needless to say, Sunday's rematch couldn't have played out any differently than the team's first meeting of the season, which Arizona won 20-16 in Week 1.
Elsewhere, San Francisco handled the Miami Dolphins at home by the score of 27-13. The 49ers have had more convincing wins in 2012, but Colin Kaepernick's 50-yard TD run with two minutes remaining sealed SF's ninth victory of the year and helped them retain the NFC's No. 2 seed at 9-3-1.
NFL sack leader Aldon Smith continues to close in on Michael Strahan's single-season sack record, picking up two more Sunday. The second-year outside linebacker is now just three back, with 19.5.
The only true NFC West nail-biter in Week 14 came in Buffalo, where the Rams squeaked out a 15-12 road win to advance to 6-6-1, reaching .500 for the first time since Week 6.
Aside from Arizona wasting away at 4-9, the NFC West amazingly possesses three teams with a record of .500 or better. At 8-5, Seattle has now moved up to the No. 5 seed. St. Louis remains on the outside looking in, sitting one and a half back of the Seahawks and Bears.
Here are five things we learned from Week 14.
1. This game had that FBS school vs. FCS school-type of feel to it. (Cardinals vs. Seahawks)
What the Seahawks did to Arizona Sunday was by all means a rare happening in the National Football League.
OK, Seattle's 58 points wasn't even the most scored in a single game this year (Patriots 59-24 win over Colts was), but no part of this football game was actually a game. It was an absolute mauling.
Any lingering suspense was gone long before halftime, when the score was already 38-0.
But don't blame the Seahawks, who were simply taking what was being handed to them. And while it's awfully difficult to justify this in a 58-point loss, the Cards' D should not bear the brunt of the blame, either.
Nope. The most abysmal offense in the NFL managed to get just a little worse in Week 14. Arizona turned the ball over eight times and averaged just 2.7 yards per play. Although the Cardinals' 154 yards of total offense was 17 yards higher than the 137 they gained against the Jets in Week 13, it is far from an acceptable level of production.
Of course, there was plenty of evidence hinting at a potential blowout. 'Zona came in losers of eight straight and couldn't even score a TD against the Jets last week despite its defense forcing four turnovers. Expecting much of anything against Seattle, at CenturyLink Field where the 'Hawks are undefeated in 2012, would be asking for disappointment.
If that wasn't a dead giveaway, how about the fact that Arizona entered a double-digit underdog despite defeating the Seahawks earlier in the season. It's not like it didn't make sense, but how often does that really happen?
2. Somehow, Frank Gore is as good as he's ever been. (Dolphins vs. 49ers)
What Frank Gore may have lost in speed, the 49ers all-time leading rusher has certainly made up for in vision and patience.
After eight NFL seasons and more than his fair share of injuries, Gore eclipsed the 1,000-yard mark for the sixth time in his career with 63 yards on 12 carries against Miami. It helps to be running behind the smashmouth offensive line he's always dreamed of, but the 29-year-old's 4.9 yards per carry in 2012 is tied for the second-best total of his career.
San Fran came into Week 14 averaging 5.28 YPC, the NFL's third-highest total. In all, the Niners went for 155 yards on 28 carries against the Dolphins (who were allowing just 3.86 YPC on the year), good enough for 5.5 YPC. Even after losing effective backup RB Kendall Hunter for the year, SF's running game rumbles on.
Now, the 49ers have unleashed their newest weapon out of the backfield. Rookie second-round pick LaMichael James made his long-awaited debut in Red and Gold, rushing for 30 yards on eight carries and catching one pass for 15 yards. The Oregon product returned three kicks for 79 yards as well.
It's no secret that the Niners have a dominant ground game and smothering defense. With Kaepernick under center, they have a young and exciting yet still somewhat unproven quarterback. Jim Harbaugh and all 49ers' fans would feel much more comfortable entering the playoffs with a healthy Frank Gore to lean on.
James looked solid in his NFL debut, and his late-season effectiveness will go a long way in allowing that to happen.
3. The Rams are getting pretty good at winning ugly. (Rams vs. Bills)
Just get the W, right? It doesn't matter that St. Louis managed just 2.9 YPC on the ground against the league's worst run defenses and Sam Bradford failed to complete even 50 percent of his passes.
The Rams won. Again.
One week after stealing a game against the 49ers in which the offense failed to account for any points until the game clock expired in the fourth quarter, St. Louis needed a TD pass inside a minute left to come away 15-12 winners over the Bills.
Coming into Week 14 at No. 28 in Scoreability, we weren't expecting the Rams to go score crazy unless it was the defense putting points on the board. But in a battle of two teams desperately clinging on to slim playoff hopes, St. Louis proved victorious.
The Rams would still require plenty of help to make the postseason but grinding out tough road wins can be invaluable for a young team under a new head coach. Jeff Fisher should be proud of his squad.
Particularly with his defensive unit. One that continues to impress despite losing its defensive coordinator (Gregg Williams) prior to the start of the season. Outside of being torched by Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady in consecutive weeks, the Rams have been solid on defense basically all season.
4. The NFC West really is getting better.
One more win and Seattle can give the NFCW its first season with two teams finishing over .500 since 2003. In 2010, not a single team even finished at .500.
Sounds like improvement to me.
We sensed as much when the division roared out to a combined 14-6 start through five weeks. But then things began to sour a bit. For the Cardinals, the slide continues. But the 'Hawks and Rams have since righted the ship after mid-season struggles and are playing meaningful late-season football as a result.
The Seahawks more so than the Rams, of course. But the division hasn't been this competitive in nearly a decade. And as long as Arizona is the only NFCW team mathematically eliminated from the postseason, we can't count St. Louis out.
Unfortunately for those Rams, they'll have to travel to Seattle in Week 17, where the 'Hawks are 6-0 in 2012. They'll also host a Vikings' squad in Week 15 with a dominant AP stomping on everything in his path.
Enjoy it while it lasts, St. Louis.
5. Looking ahead to Week 15.
Sunday Night Football has a dandy of a matchup in Week 15. The 49ers travel to Foxborough to take on a Patriots team that has won six straight and is 37-3 in the month of December since 2002. Kaepernick helped lead the Niners to victory against Drew Brees and the Saints in the Superdome, but Tom Brady and the Pats are notch up in terms of level of difficulty.
Seattle looks to prove it's overcome the road woes of the past when the 'Hawks travel to Buffalo this weekend. With Washington, Dallas and Minnesota all a game behind at 7-6, the Seahawks can't afford a slip-up this late in the year. Especially with San Fran coming to town in Week 16. The starters will be plenty rested, though, after making quick work of the Cards.
As previously mentioned, St. Louis has AP and the Vikings to deal with. At 1,600 rushing yards, Peterson is now 400 shy of the 2,000-yard mark with three games to go. It would make sense for the Rams to expect a heavy dose of the NFL's freak of nature Sunday.
Arizona will attempt to pick up the pieces of its broken season in Week 15 when another team enduring a horrific stretch of losses comes to University of Phoenix Stadium. The Lions, also 4-9, will make a visit. Detroit has dropped five straight, but there's a good chance its misery will come to and end before the Cardinals' does.