Around the NFC West: 'Must-win' games

John Crumpacker of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers face two must-win games because losing to the Lions or Rams would raise questions about the team's direction. Coach Mike Singletary: "For us, it's extremely important to finish [8-8] for many different reasons. We want to win. Going into this game, we found out we are not going to be in the playoffs. What do you do, fold the tent and go home? I know the character of these guys. They're disappointed, but at the same time, we have an opportunity in these games."

Also from Crumpacker: Frank Gore needs 58 yards rushing for a fourth consecutive season with at least 1,000 yards.

More from Crumpacker: Josh Morgan leads the 49ers' receivers in receptions and is making his mark as a kick returner.

The 49ers' Web site identifies nine award winners for 2009, with explanations for each award. Winners include Vernon Davis, Patrick Willis, David Baas, Aubrayo Franklin, Brit Miller, Brian Jennings, Jeff Ulbrich, Takeo Spikes and Shawntae Spencer.

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers think Morgan has made more strides than any receiver on the team this season, and that he has a chance to reach the next level. Offensive coordinator Jimmy Raye: "He is a big, physical guy that has burst and power and speed which is evident on the kickoff returns. He has good run-after ability and he is a good blocker, adding on in the running game. I think he has been the most improved perimeter guy. I am very pleased."

Matt Maiocco of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat says it's important for Alex Smith to finish the season strong. Agreed.

Also from Maiocco: Michael Robinson takes over as Gore's primary backup while rookie Glen Coffee recovers from injury.

More from Maiocco: Lions coach Jim Schwartz was among the candidates San Francisco interviewed before hiring Mike Nolan in 2005.

More yet from Maiocco: Isaac Bruce has probably played his final down for the 49ers.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee checks in with new 49ers kicker Ricky Schmitt, who is grateful for the opportunity.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News says the 49ers will likely bring back Raye as offensive coordinator despite underwhelming stats this season.

Dan Bickley of the Arizona Republic checks in with Cardinals quarterback Kurt Warner, who is preparing for another game against his former team. Bickley: "The shift began this season, when Warner said he was "over" the whole emotional saga that came with playing against the Rams. After all, he has played more regular-season games with Arizona (60) than he did with St. Louis (53). He also has beaten the Rams in five consecutive games. The accumulation of time, revenge and two consecutive NFC West titles have altered his perspective."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals aren't concerned about having far fewer big plays on offense this season. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: "We haven't had the dramatic catches down the field like we had last year, but we've had some chunks were we've caught it and had a 20-, 30-yard gain." The Cardinals rank 12th in pass plays covering at least 20 yards. They have 42. They rank tied for last with the Rams in pass plays covering at least 40 yards. Each team has two.

Also from Somers: The Cardinals' improved running game is taking pressure off Warner. Warner: "It's a completely different team this year. You've seen so many games that we've won in so many different ways. That's been the fun part. Down the stretch of games you say, 'I can throw the ball away. We can punt it away in this situation. I don't have to try to make every big throw or fit it into a window.' Those are great situations to be in as a quarterback."

More from Somers: a scouting report for the Cardinals' game against the Rams.

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com offers thoughts on Beanie Wells. He also thinks the Cardinals will not rest starters against the Rams unless the team jumps to a huge lead.

Greg Johns of seattlepi.com says the Seahawks are close to tying the worst road record in franchise history. Getting pressure on Aaron Rodgers would help. Darryl Tapp: "Sacks come in bunches for players and teams. We're just hitting a real dry spell. We've been able to get pressure, we feel like, and make quarterbacks move their feet a little bit, we just haven't been able to get home. As a pass rusher, speaking on behalf of the defensive line, it's frustrating. But you have to keep at it, you know?"

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times says the Seahawks have endured some tough experiences in past visits to Lambeau Field. The team has a 9-21 overall record since losing a playoff game at Lambeau following the 2007 season. O'Neil: "Shaun Alexander played what turned out to be his final game as a Seahawk that night, one of nine Seattle starters in Green Bay no longer with the franchise. Of the 45 players on the active roster for that game, 22 are gone. And more changes undoubtedly are on the way."

Also from O'Neil: "The Seahawks have been outscored 79-37 in the first quarter, their largest disparity of any period this season. They have committed 10 turnovers in the first quarter this year, scored just four touchdowns and kicked five field goals."

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says Seahawks receiver T.J. Houshmandzadeh is mentoring rookie Deon Butler. Butler: "If you were reading about him in the paper and stuff, I’d probably think, 'Wow, this dude is kind of out there.' But if you’re fortunate enough to get to know him, and anyone in this organization -- and other organizations, period -- they know what kind of guy he is. That outspoken guy, that’s just his media talk. If you get to know him, he’s a totally different guy and you’d fall in love with him. A great dude."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks for signs of hope in the Rams' otherwise lost season. Former receiver Ricky Proehl relays comments from Colts president Bill Polian suggesting the Rams aren't as far off as their 1-13 record would suggest. Rams general manager Billy Devaney says Polian made similar comments to him. Devaney: "He grabbed me as they were walking off the field. He grabbed my arm and he said, 'Hey, don't listen to anybody. You guys are doing it the right way. We looked at you all week long [on tape], and you guys are doing it the right way. Stay your course.' "

Also from Thomas: Marc Bulger becomes the 13th Rams player on injured reserve, while the league fines Steven Jackson $5,000.

More from Thomas: key matchups in the Rams-Cardinals game.

More yet from Thomas: a look at the Rams' opponents for 2010. Home: Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, Atlanta, Carolina, Kansas City, San Diego, Washington. Away: Arizona, San Francisco, Seattle, New Orleans, Tampa Bay, Denver, Oakland, Detroit.

Steve Korte of the Belleville News-Democrat says the Rams' return game is better with Danny Amendola.

Jim Rodenbush of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat says the Rams have "dropped 12 consecutive division games and are 1-15 against the NFC West since 2007 and 4-24 since 2005. Their last division win was a 13-9 victory at San Francisco on Nov. 18, 2007."