Around the NFC West: Grudge match

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says the Cardinals have payback on their minds heading into their game against the 49ers. Darnell Dockett: "I can’t wait for this one. Man, I’ve been waiting for this one. We don’t care nothing about winning the division. That’s some of the talk, but this game is personal."

Also from Urban links to several Cardinals-related items featured by Sports Illustrated before noting that the Vikings-Cardinals game set a local regular-season ratings record.

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals are getting big contributions from two of their smallest players, LaRod Stephens-Howling and Michael Adams. Stephens-Howling: "I enjoy having people tell me what I can't do. In high school, they told me I'd never be able to go to a Division 1 program and play. Coming out of college, it was the same thing: 'How is he going to play on the next level? He's too small.' That's stuff you remember and keep in the back of your mind when you're working."

Also from Somers: catching up with former NFL linebacker Rob Fredrickson, now a member of the Cardinals' radio team.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee provides status updates on several emerging 49ers players, including quarterback Alex Smith. Barrows: "He went over 300 yards against Seattle despite seven drops by his receivers. In the last two games, Smith has been very accurate. Moreover, he has been very accurate on difficult throws, such as the one to Michael Crabtree in the end zone against Jacksonville, which Crabtree dropped. There were two throws Smith would have liked to have back Sunday against Seattle, both of which came in the final drive." I counted three definite drops. Delanie Walker probably should have had a touchdown grab even though Leroy Hill ran into him, but I did not count that one as a drop.

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says injured 49ers linebacker Jeff Ulbrich has decided to retire and pursue a coaching career, probably at the college level. Ulbrich: "I think the opportunity to work with young, impressionable kids during their first time away from home and acting as a surrogate dad excites me even more than the coaching part of it." More here.

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers' Joe Staley badly wants to play against the Cardinals.

Howard Mintz of the San Jose Mercury News updates the 49ers' efforts to get a stadium built. Mintz: "The 49ers this week announced a plan to back a citizens initiative for the June ballot instead of relying on the City Council to put its own measure on the same ballot, the presumed plan for months. The team is bankrolling the initiative drive for a group called Santa Clarans for Economic Progress, which is composed of a litany of former Santa Clara civic power brokers, as well as prominent figures such as soccer star Brandi Chastain."

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com offers notes on John Carlson, the Seahawks' frozen practice tundra and Jim Mora's preferred jersey color combinations. Offensive coordinator Greg Knapp on Carlson: "More than last year, teams have been very sensitive to trying to reroute John on releases. So he’s been getting banged a lot more. That’s one of the things that we’re working on John’s progression in, is what we call second-level releases -- those linebackers or safety about 5 yards off the ball, where is it illegal contact or is it we’ve got to keep our pad level down as a receiver."

Dave Boling of the Tacoma News Tribune wonders what might have been for Seattle this season if quarterback Matt Hasselbeck had slid safely during an ill-fated scramble against the 49ers in Week 2. Boling: "They were down only 13-10 at halftime, but with backup Seneca Wallace at quarterback in place of Hasselbeck, the Hawks generated nothing offensively and were outscored 10-0 in the second half. The next week, again with Wallace in place of Hasselbeck, the Hawks lost a home game against Chicago, 25-19. They picked up 346 yards of offense, so there were other factors involved, granted. But, again, with Hasselbeck in there, this game looked imminently more winnable. Every team can do some degree of retrospective revision, but let’s just go with it today. Win those two games with a healthy Hasselbeck and the Hawks are 7-5 right now instead of 5-7. Would president Tim Ruskell have been fired? How differently would the final four games of the season have felt while the team remained in contention?"

Matt Pitman of 710ESPN Seattle offers audio links to interviews with Knapp and Carlson.

Bill Coats of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says an MRI exam showed no additional problems for Rams rookie first-round draft choice Jason Smith. Coats: "Smith met with an independent neurological consultant Tuesday and underwent an MRI exam, which showed no further issues. He still must pass his follow-up neuro exam and be cleared by the independent consultant and the team doctors before getting back on the field."

Also from Coats: Justin King is getting more work with the Rams' starting defense after Quincy Butler allowed a long pass play against the Bears in Week 13. Fellow corner Ron Bartell: "We've asked a lot of him, playing corner and nickel, moving back and forth. He's done his best with the opportunities he's been given. Now he gets another opportunity, and I expect him to keep stepping up and keep getting better."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch checks in with the Rams' newest players, Clinton Hart and Mike Reilly. Thomas: "Hart didn't play college football; he was a pitcher-outfielder for Central Florida Community College from 1996-98. There, he would warm up for baseball practice by throwing a football. Hart's college coaches teased him that he was playing the wrong sport. Turns out they were right."

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams now have both starting quarterbacks from the Division II title game last season.