Following NFL Week 8, the only thing that became more clear about the NFC West race is that it may be even uglier than any of us imagined.
The division leader took a 30-point beating at the hands of the Oakland Raiders while the upstart second place team doesn't appear capable of winning at home and the defending division champs have some of the worst quarterback play the league has seen.
As races go, this is basically the equivalent of four sprinters with a total of six and a half legs.
NFL Week 8 Results:
St. Louis Rams 20, Carolina Panthers 10 - The Rams have now reached the point where they can quietly win games -- at least at home. If you watched this game, there was seriously almost nothing to see here.
Stephen Jackson came out sporting Eric Dickerson goggles for warmups and though he didn't deliver a Dickerson-like performance (23 carries, 59 yards), Sam Bradford was an efficient 25/32 for 191 and a pair of scores to lead St. Louis.
A week after the Panthers got their first win of the season, everything reverted back to form for one of the worst teams in the league. Carolina turned the ball over four times, including three interceptions from Matt Moore.
St. Louis now heads into their bye week at an even 4-4, but have four of their next five games on the road, where they've yet to win a game this season.
Cheap jokes at the expense of the Niners aside, Troy Smith started his first game since 2007 and led San Francisco to a 21-point fourth quarter to give the team its second win of the season.
With the Broncos leading 7-3 late in the third quarter, Denver had a 38-yard touchdown pass from Kyle Orton to Jabar Gaffney nullified. The Broncos did eventually turn the drive into three points, but the momentum swing caused by going from touchdown to field goal seemed to buoy the Niners' fourth quarter charge.
San Francisco scored on their next three drives -- a run by Troy Smith, pass to Michael Crabtree, and run by Frank Gore -- to blow ahead 24-10 by the 3:47 mark of the third.
Denver attempted a late rally, but trailing by 8 with under 40 seconds left, Orton was intercepted and the Niners were back in the winners circle. Don't look now, but SF has just one less win than the Cardinals.
Oakland Raiders 33, Seattle Seahawks 3 - Those people thinking the Raiders 59-14 win over the Broncos was a fluke were proven incorrect in a second consecutive Raider rout.
Nothing really went right for Seattle on this day: Matt Hasselbeck was 13/32 with a fluky pick, while Olindo Mare lost his 30 consecutive field goal streak with not one but two misses. Even the hyped Marshawn Lynch rushed nine times for just seven yards.
Without left tackle Russell Okung in the lineup, Seattle was unable to protect Hasselbeck, as the Raiders got to the quarterback eight times and lived in the Seattle backfield all day long.
Jason Campbell threw for over 300 yards for Oakland and suddenly elite Darren McFadden again rushed for over a 100 yards.
Hard to say more about a game that Seattle was so obviously outclassed in.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38, Arizona Cardinals 35 - Apparently willing to give Max Hall a chance to prove his 4/16 showing against the Seahawks was a wet ball, small hands fluke, Ken Whisenhunt again handed the starting gig to Hall and again experienced disastrous results.
Hall did provide the first touchdown of the day when he found Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone to give the Cardinals a 7-0 lead. Unfortunately, he also helped provide the second touchdown of the day when he was intercepted by Tampa Bay linebacker Geno Hayes to even the score.
After the teams traded touchdowns, Hall threw a second pick-six -- this time to Aqib Talib -- to put Tampa ahead 21-14. Enter Derek Anderson.
With Tampa ahead 31-14 late in the third, the Cardinals posted a pair of touchdowns in just 23 seconds, one on a 30-yard TD run by LaRod Stephens-Howling and another on a fumble recovery by Gerald Hayes to cut the deficit to just three. The Cardinals took the lead on a Anderson to Fitzgerald touchdown pass early in the fourth.
However, the defense could not hold. Josh Freeman connected with Arrelious Benn on a 53-yard pass to take Tampa to the one and LeGarrette Blount (who gashed the Cards for 120 yards) scored one play later.
Anderson was intercepted on each of the next two Cardinals drives, including the dagger when he attempted to force a pass into Fitz on the Tampa 20 with 2:10 to go. Game, set, match. Awful loss.
Week 9 Games:
Cardinals @ Vikings - What does it say about the Cardinals quarterback position that I view the turmoil ridden 2-5 Vikings as a heavy favorite in Sunday's upcoming contest? Sure, they've released Randy Moss, had to watch Brett Favre carted off the field in the fetal position, and still have the anti-genius Brad Childress as coach, but I mean ... Derek Anderson and Max Hall. Gross.
To add to the negativity, the Cardinals regularly struggle in morning games (this one will be an 11 a.m. Arizona time kick) and are 29th in the NFL in rush yards allowed per game with Adrian Peterson calling.
For those of you clowns still whining about Matt Leinart, I'm sure you remember that in the Cards last trip to Minnesota in 2006, the USC lefty and apple of the simple fan's eye threw for a then-rookie record 405 yards. Oh, you don't, but still want to say something about him anyway?
Minnesota's gonna roll.
Giants @ Seahawks - So Seattle just got obliterated by the Raiders in Oakland, proving that their not the road warriors they pretended to be against Chicago a few weeks back. But fortunately for them, this game is at home, where they are a completely different team.
Now the Giants are coming to town with a 5-2 record and a trail of injured quarterbacks in their wake. That is probably the worst news for fragile quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, who left last Sunday's game with what was called a mild concussion (which I'm sure is the same one as Max Hall suffered in Seattle in Week 7). Russell Okung is slated to return for Seattle, which should at least keep the bald one upright for a half.
New York is clearly the better team, but as usual, it's unwise to completely write off the Qwest Field advantage. The Giants should win, but who the hell knows.