Around the NFC West: Process a 'sham'?

Kevin Lynch of Niner Insider says the 49ers' search for a GM will be a 'sham' if current team executive Trent Baalke gets the job quickly. Lynch: "The 49ers are either creating a huge smoke screen to conceal their true desire to hire someone other than Trent Baalke as their general manager, or their GM search is a sham. Yet another league source said Baalke's hire was a done deal. Not only that, reports and sources say his hiring has been in the works for several weeks." Hiring from within isn't necessarily a bad thing. It would be puzzling, however, for the 49ers to hire Baalke quickly without following through on team president Jed York's pledge to consider as many people as possible.

Matt Maiocco of CSNBayArea.com checks in with 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis, who lobbies for Takeo Spikes' return and says he wishes he could play Sunday.

Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee says former Broncos general manager Ted Sundquist is the latest candidate to interview for the 49ers' GM job.

Daniel Brown of the San Jose Mercury News offers details on Willis' hand injury. Brown: "Willis provided new details about the second hand surgery that will keep him out of Sunday's game against the Arizona Cardinals. He said X-rays after last week's game revealed that bones in his hand had moved, despite a pin that had been surgically inserted to keep it in place. Willis said he thought the X-ray was just a formality and was laughing right up until the moment the doctor gave him a serious look."

Eric Branch of the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat wonders how the 49ers will approach a meaningless game after coming out flat with the playoffs on the line.

Also from Branch: checking in with Nate Davis.

David White of the San Francisco Chronicle says the 49ers want to interview at least one GM candidate who will not be available before next week, but Trent Baalke remains the overwhelming favorite to become GM.

Clare Farnsworth of seahawks.com takes a closer look at Craig Terrill's almost accidental development into a kick-blocking machine. Terrill has three blocked field-goal tries this season and eight for his career, tied with Joe Nash for most in franchise history.

Danny O'Neil of the Seattle Times passes along this comment from Seahawks coach Pete Carroll regarding quarterback Charlie Whitehurst: "It's all on him. I've talked about that. This is the big opportunity. This is the big challenge. This is the big spotlight. This is all of that for him." No pressure, Charlie.

Eric D. Williams of the Tacoma News Tribune says containing Steven Jackson remains the key to beating the Rams. Jackson has never reached 100 yards rushing against Seattle. Nose tackle Colin Cole: "It always starts with Steven Jackson. They’re not going to put the whole offense on Bradford’s shoulders and expect him to win the game for them. It’s not going to happen. They’ve got one of the top-five running backs in the game in their backfield, and he makes that team better. And he’s going to be the No. 1 threat that we have to take away from them as best as we can."

Kent Somers of the Arizona Republic says the Cardinals' John Skelton has shown an ability to make plays, at least on occasion, without ideal mechanics. Coach Ken Whisenhunt: ""The one thing that I've been really impressed with John is, at that position, you have to be able to throw the football in all kinds of different physical positions, and I've seen him do that."

Also from Somers: Guard Alan Faneca considers retirement. Faneca proved this season he was not washed up after the New York Jets released him, but suffering through a 5-10 season surely has taken away some of the enjoyment. Faneca: "You know you are getting closer to the end than you are to the beginning, so you just appreciate the moment and treat it as if it is the last time. I've seen guys that haven't known (it was ending)."

Bob McManaman of the Arizona Republic says Cardinals rookie receiver Andre Roberts is making strides. Larry Fitzgerald: "He had a rough start and that's been well noted, but you really have to tip your hat for the way he's bounced back. It really makes you proud to see a guy so resilient and dealing with controversy and things not going his way. I told him after the (Cowboys) game how happy I was for him. . . . He's getting better every single week. He can get a lot better and he is getting better."

Darren Urban of azcardinals.com says unusual weather has forced the Cardinals to brave the elements this week. Whisenhunt even wore sweatpants instead of shorts to one practice.

Also from Urban: Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie did not earn a Pro Bowl berth this season, but all was not lost. Urban: "The ironic part is that defensive coordinator Bill Davis actually sees this as Rodgers-Cromartie’s most consistent season of his three. DRC’s work in the film room has greatly improved, and Davis said Rodgers-Cromartie’s mistakes have been minimized. On that point, Rodgers-Cromartie doesn’t disagree, saying that he has learned a lot and has been consistent in practice."

Bryan Burwell of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says the Rams' last few seasons have made the more appreciative of their current opportunity. Burwell: "Don't tell them they ought to be embarrassed for still being alive and kicking in the NFL playoff hunt with a 7-8 record. Don't tell them that winning the NFC West title is an insult to everyone's football sensibilities, because they just might tell you something you don't want to hear, such as what it has been like to have endured the pain and suffering through one of the most moribund eras in NFL history."

Roger Hensley of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch asks colleagues to compare Sam Bradford to other quarterbacks in style and approach. Burwell: "He reminds me a little of Joe Montana for his nimbleness out of the pocket, and Troy Aikman as a big man in the pocket with great accuracy." That's a combination the Rams could live with.

Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch compares Bradford to other quarterbacks drafted No. 1 overall. Miklasz: "You'd have to go back to John Elway (1983) to find the last time a team made the playoffs after drafting and starting a QB chosen No. 1 overall. But even then, Elway had some help; he started 10 games for Denver, with Steve DeBerg making the other six starts."

Jim Thomas of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch says Mike Hoomanawanui returned to practice for the Rams. Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur: "Mike did a good job today. He got a limited amount of reps, and the stuff that we did with him he seemed to be able to function. Obviously, Coach (Steve Spagnuolo) will make the final decision on what happens with Mike, but as far as today goes, it's promising."

Nick Wagoner of stlouisrams.com says cornerback Jerome Murphy returned to full participation after missing time with a broken finger.

Also from Wagoner: The Rams' defensive front has been key this season. Wagoner: "Led by the talented trio of James Hall, Chris Long and Fred Robbins and deploying a rotation that sometimes goes as many as nine deep, the Rams front four has become the lead force behind a defensive resurgence that’s seen them make tremendous strides this season."

More from Wagoner: Rams veterans are savoring a chance to earn a playoff berth.

Jonathan Webb of stlouisrams.com says former Seahawks kicker Josh Brown has played a key role in the Rams-Seahawks rivalry over the years.