Seahawks maintain pitiful NFC West lead


This 49ers-Seahawks pillow fight on Monday night could be the worst thing on prime-time television since "Celebrity Boxing."

Seattle (4-4) leads the miserable NFC West by one game, in spite of itself. Coach Mike Holmgren is changing his offense in the middle of the season, promising to rely more on his one constant &

Matt Hasselbeck's passing &

instead of his biggest headache, a running game to nowhere. Shaun Alexander has his fewest yards rushing through eight games since he became a starter in 2001. The league MVP of 2005 also has a twisted left knee and ankle below his already broken wrist and may miss this game.

The Seahawks' bend-and-often-break defense has been too inconsistent to bail out the offense, resulting in three losses in the last four games.

"No, I am not comfortable," Holmgren said. "Now that it's an eight-game season, if there wasn't a sense of urgency before &

which there should be all the time &

there certainly is now."

It's been so bad, Hasselbeck this week called some of his team's play "unprofessional."

"I feel like we are really fortunate to still have whatever game lead we have in our division, knowing how many things, many opportunities, we've squandered," said Hasselbeck, who ranks in the NFC's top five in attempts, completions, yards, touchdowns and passer rating.

"And to still be in position to get it done ... at some point, we have to make the most of it here."

At least they aren't in San Francisco.

The 49ers were the trendy pick to end Seattle's run of three consecutive division titles this season after a breakout year from running back Frank Gore in 2006, then a spending spree to upgrade the defense. Instead, they have lost six consecutive games after opening with two wins.

"Yeah, maybe we just all ought to shut up and play," coach Mike Nolan said of his flopping team, the middling Seahawks and their entire division.

Gore broke into stardom last season with 1,695 yards in his second year, but hasn't gained 100 yards in a game this season. His offensive line has lost left tackle Jonas Jennings and right guard Justin Smiley to season-ending injuries. Gore has a sore ankle that caused him to miss last week's loss at Atlanta.

Quarterback Alex Smith has spectacularly failed to fill the void. The 49ers are last in league in total offense (224.3 yards per game) and passing offense (132.8 yards). Smith will be making his third start since Rocky Bernard dislocated Smith's passing shoulder on a sack early in Seattle's 23-3 victory at San Francisco in Week 4. He has completed less than 50 percent of his throws, has just two touchdown passes in six starts and is the lowest-rated passer in the NFL.

No wonder San Francisco has not scored 20 points in a game since beating the Cardinals 20-17 in Week 1.

Nolan candidly said Smith, the league's top overall pick in 2005, has regressed.

"Coming into the season I thought he was ahead of where he has been right now. I thought he would do a better job up to this point," said Nolan, who is 13-27 in 21/2 seasons leading the 49ers. "His accuracy has been a little off. I think that's somewhat due to the soreness he has in the shoulder.

"But at the same time if you can play, you know the quarterbacks are expected to perform at a high level."

The coach doesn't allow the injury issue on offense to be an alibi for his rock-bottom efficiency.

"It should not affect him as much as it has," Nolan said.

It does make Smith ponder where his career stands in its third season.

"You know, that's a good question," he said. "Obviously, no one has higher expectation for me other than me. I think I'm definitely my biggest critic. That has been frustrating.

"I think as far as my progression, I look from my rookie year to last year, and last year to even this year &

as far as how I feel, how comfortable I am back there, my decision making, my ability to play this game in this league &

I do feel like I have made strides every year. And I can see it every week."

Even if no one else can.

"Has it manifested itself statistically? It hasn't this year," he said. "And that's the next step."

For now, his 49ers are two steps behind the Seahawks. For Hasselbeck, that's all that matters.

"If we can hold on and hang on and win our division, which I think we can, and then we can start playing our best football at the end of the year, really, that's all that matters," Hasselbeck said. "I don't get too caught up in what our win-loss record is at the end of the year. What I do care about is winning our division and then, obviously, playing well in the playoffs."

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