TEMPE, Ariz. — Almost three hours before their bosses’ fate was revealed, the prevailing uncertainty loomed over the Cardinals locker room like a dark cloud from this little corner of the NFL’s Black Monday.
Forced to serve as spokesmen on the tailwind of a disaster, the players did their best to present viable perspective without the knowledge that coach Ken Whisenhunt, general manager Rod Graves and most of the team’s offensive staff were about to be fired in the brackish wake of a 5-11 season.
“We just have to let it fall where it’s supposed to fall,” defensive end Calais Campbell said. “Just let it all unravel.”
Unravel certainly is a convenient word to use in defining a season that began with four consecutive victories and then — following an injury to rising quarterback Kevin Kolb — dissolved toward Sunday’s bitter end in San Francisco, a familiar 27-13 loss.
“You just have to take it for what it’s worth, learn from it and move on … use it as motivation for the offseason,” Campbell said during the day-after, clean-out-your-locker interlude.”
But even as the word “change” was lobbed at each Cardinal descended upon during this media-availability session, Campbell didn’t exactly embrace doom as this team’s destiny.
“We have a great group of guys here,” Campbell said. “We’re just one piece away from being great.”
It’s pretty clear what that piece is. By the way, “great” could be a stretch, but considering the uprisings in NFL locales such as Seattle, one offseason of inspired alteration seems capable of big results.
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett didn’t appear during Monday’s media window of opportunity, but he did provide some strong opinions on the winds of change after Sunday’s loss.
“Oh, yeah,” Dockett quickly responded when asked if changes should be expected. “We need some energizing … something for everybody to look forward to during the offseason.
“But you only can control what you can control. If I could push a reset button like on Madden, I would.”
An ongoing spat with Whisenhunt that blew up after a late-season incident co-starring safety Kerry Rhodes has resulted in some change-related speculation involving Dockett.
“First of all, I love Arizona, I love the fans,” he said. “Even the ups and downs and everything … me, personally, I want to be somewhere where I’m wanted.
“I’m not saying they (Cardinals) don’t want me. But wherever God takes me, he takes me. I want to be somewhere where they are committed to winning.”
Checking in from shaky ground on the offensive side was running back Beanie Wells, who during the last week of practice said he would use the final game of this season as a job audition.
“I don’t really regret saying it,” Wells said Monday. “I think it was kind of taken out of context.”
According to Wells, Cardinals coaches encouraged a strong closing effort by reminding their players that teams looking for future employees would be paying attention to everyone around the league.
Perhaps for his candor — or his ball-security issues — Wells didn’t play against the 49ers.
“Any time you’re not part of the game, it sucks,” Wells said before fielding questions about his future. “I’m just going to roll with it. Whatever happens happens. I would love to be here in Arizona.
“Whatever changes are going to be made with the Bidwills and anyone else up there, I’m sure they’ll be the right changes as they see fit.”
Before the announcement that Whisenhunt was being let go, conjecture regarding the future of defensive coordinator Ray Horton — reportedly on the short list of head-coaching candidates for several teams — was offered by several defensive players.
“He’s important to us,” Rhodes said, smiling to boost the level of this understatement. “For us, we’ve got to sit back and see what he decides. He’s going to do what’s best for him.”
Pro Bowl cornerback Patrick Peterson didn’t mince words when asked about the possibility of losing Horton.
“That would be difficult,” Peterson said, “because we’d have to start from ground zero.”
Our benediction on perspective comes from offensive lineman Daryn Colledge.
“That’s what the NFL is — it’s all about change,” Colledge said. “But I hope most of the guys in this room come back. We have a lot of good players on this team.”