NFC West Stock Watch


1. John Skelton, Arizona Cardinals QB. Skelton started slowly again, and this time there wasn't enough time for the Cardinals to come back and win. The scoring passes Skelton threw came after his three interceptions and repeated inaccurate passes helped Cincinnati run out to a 23-0 lead. Skelton finished the game with a 6.3 score out of 100 in Total QBR, lowest among 32 starting quarterbacks in Week 16. Teams with lower QBR scores than their opponents are 1-47 (.021) over the past three weeks (the Bengals' Andy Dalton was at 70.9 in this game). Receiver Early Doucet was a candidate to represent the Cardinals in the "falling" category after missing a chance to make the tying reception against the Bengals, but he became a sympathetic figure, in my view, when Larry Fitzgerald's father criticized him.

2. Tarvaris Jackson, Seattle Seahawks QB. Jackson has been a good fit for the Seahawks this season, but his performance in defeat against the 49ers served as a reminder that the team could outgrow his limitations before long. Jackson held the ball too long and seemed indecisive when the 49ers' Larry Grant struck him from behind to force a fumble with the game on the line. Holding the ball too long has been a problem frequently this season. Jackson finished the game with decent passing stats, but he didn't do enough to help his team win the game. This was a step backward for him as the Seahawks' playoff hopes evaporated.

3. Josh Brown, St. Louis Rams kicker. The Rams have enough problems without missing relatively short field goals on those few times when the offense moves into scoring position. Brown missed from 33 yards (and also from 52) against the Steelers when the Rams badly needed points. They trailed only 13-0 after three quarters before allowing two touchdowns to lose 27-0. Brown has made 73.1 percent of his attempts this season, which would be a career low. He has missed five times from inside 50 yards and twice from longer distances. Brown has made at least one attempt from 50-plus yards in each of his eight previous seasons, but none in 2011.


1. Michael Crabtree, San Francisco 49ers WR. The 49ers faced a second-and-18 situation while trailing the Seahawks by a point with about six minutes left in the fourth quarter. Crabtree's leaping reception along the left sideline for a 41-yard gain bailed out the 49ers and moved them into position for the winning field goal. Crabtree finished the game with five receptions for 85 yards. Both figures were game highs. Crabtree also provided a 27-yard reception to open the second half. That play jump-started an eight-play, 75-yard touchdown drive as the 49ers tied the game following a rough first half.

2. Marshawn Lynch, Seattle Seahawks RB. Lynch's stock had already soared over the second half of this season, but he hasn't gotten enough recognition in this space. What Lynch accomplished against the 49ers takes his stock up a few more notches, anyway. You know the particulars by now. With 107 yards and a touchdown, Lynch ended the 49ers' streaks for not allowing a 100-yard rusher (36 games) or a rushing touchdown (15 games). Teams tend to think of running backs as easier to replace than players at other positions. Lynch is an exception in Seattle. The way he runs makes him irreplaceable at this time. He is the Seahawks' MVP, easily.

3. Alex Smith, San Francisco 49ers QB. Poor passing stats in the first half (6-of-15) obscured a strong overall performance from Smith, his second in a row and third in four games. Smith made clutch scrambles, protected the football and came through with that deep pass to Crabtree for the 41-yard gain. He upped his starting record to 12-3 this season. Though Smith did not throw a scoring pass Saturday, he has 24 touchdowns and only six interceptions in his last 20 starts. The 49ers have a 15-5 record in those games. Yes, the team has often won with defense, special teams and ball control, but Smith has occasionally been the difference in victory, as he was Sunday. He has also avoided the mistakes that doomed the 49ers to defeat in the past.