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Originally published October 6, 2012 at 5:41 PM | Page modified October 6, 2012 at 8:16 PM

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It's no longer the NFC Worst

With everybody playing better defense, this division has done a complete turnaround and is building a better reputation throughout the NFL.

Times NFL reporter

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The country didn't just watch the game Thursday between two members of the NFC West, it winced at it.

That's not exactly a novel reaction considering the quality of football that has been played in this division recently, but this was different. When St. Louis defeated Arizona on Thursday night, it was a national showcase for the fact that the four teams in the NFC West — considered pushovers just two years ago — are now more than capable of defending themselves against any NFL offense that happens to wander onto the field.

The NFC's worst? That's no longer the NFC West. Not even close. Two years after every team in the division finished the year with a losing record, there isn't a single team below .500 in what constitutes a cleanup effort FEMA could be proud of.

"We certainly aren't like we were a couple years ago," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "It's a tough place to play right now. For anybody."

The Cardinals were one of two teams in the league to start 4-0, the franchise's best start since 1974. The 49ers look to be just as dominant as a year ago and don't look now, but even the Rams are competitive, maybe even formidable. They treated Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb like a piñata Thursday, sacking him nine times in a victory that left St. Louis 3-2. Not only did that surpass St. Louis' victory total last season, it gave the team a winning record for the first time in six years, a stretch that includes 93 regular-season games and two coaching changes.

Seattle is in last place at 2-2 with victories over Dallas and Green Bay, and an 0-2 record in the division. That's not the scarlet letter it would have been two years ago when Seattle went 4-2 in the division, 3-7 against everyone else and made the playoffs.

Back then, the NFC West was the black eye of the league, the Seahawks reaching the playoffs while 10-victory teams like the Bucs and Giants did not. Now, that black eye could wind up being a more literal description of the way these teams are playing.

"The defense being played by all four teams is obvious," Carroll said. "Everybody is getting after it."

The NFL had the highest-scoring opening weekend in history, a feat that was accomplished in spite of the NFC West, not because of it. There are two teams in the league that have yet to allow more than 21 points in a game: Seattle and Arizona. St. Louis had nine sacks Thursday against Arizona, holding the Cardinals to a field goal, while all the 49ers have done is win 16 of the past 20 regular-season games they've played.

That marks a tidal change in a division that was known for its offenses the last time it sent multiple teams to the playoffs. That was 2004 when Seattle won the division at 9-7 under coach Mike Holmgren, and the Rams were an 8-8 wild card under Mike Martz. Two teams from the division haven't finished with a winning record in the same season since 2003.

No longer is this a division known for offense. There are currently 18 quarterbacks on pace to pass for more than 4,000 yards this season. None of them play in the NFC West.

Two years ago, it was impossible to defend the NFC West. Now, it's impossible not to defend in this division that has rendered opponents black and blue through the first four weeks of the season.

Danny O'Neil: 206-464-2364 or doneil@seattletimes.com.

On Twitter @dannyoneil


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