ATLANTA (AP) — As Arizona’s losing streak grows, Ken Whisenhunt’s edict is clear: No player is exempt from being benched.
Whisenhunt replaced quarterback John Skelton in the first half of Sunday’s 23-19 loss to Atlanta, but rookie Ryan Lindley was not able to lift a listless offense in his NFL debut.
The Cardinals, who managed only 178 yards, could not capitalize on the Falcons’ six turnovers, including Matt Ryan’s five interceptions.
“If you’re going to hold all the guys on the team accountable, you’ve got to include every position,” Whisenhunt said after Arizona’s sixth straight loss.
“Not just the quarterback,” he added. “We’re in the business of winning games. That’s what we have to do. We’re going to make the changes that we feel we need to make going forward, and that’s what we said we’re going to do. We’re sticking to that. Like I said, the quarterback is not exempt from that.”
Lindley completed 9 of 20 passes for 64 yards with no interceptions and no touchdowns. He said he was “geeked up” and rushed his decisions in the first half.
“I was too excited,” said Lindley, a sixth-round draft pick from San Diego State. “After that, I felt more calm. I think I made better decisions.
“It’s not like it’s something I can’t fix. It’s my decision-making and I can make better decisions next time out.”
Skelton completed only 2 of 7 passes for 6 yards.
“We missed some throws when we had opportunities early,” Whisenhunt said. “We’re trying to win, so we gave Ryan a chance to make the throws.”
Skelton said all players are on notice.
“When Coach says something like that, I don’t think anyone is exempt,” Skelton said. “Getting benched is part of the game. It’s frustrating not being able to be out there for the rest of the game.”
Arizona’s only touchdown was set up by Rashad Johnson’s interception of Ryan’s pass on the first play of the game, giving the Cardinals (4-6) the ball at Atlanta’s 9-yard line.
LaRod Stephens-Howling, who had 127 yards rushing, scored from the 3. Jay Feely kicked the first two of his four field goals later in the opening quarter, giving Arizona a 13-0 lead.
Ryan kept giving the Cardinals chances with the interceptions. The Cardinals’ offense kept stalling, even when given possession three more times in Atlanta territory.
“It’s extremely frustrating,” Cardinals center Lyle Sendlein said. “If you would have told us yesterday we’d get the ball four or five times on their side of the 50, I’d have said, `Yeah, we’re going to beat them, and beat them by a large margin.'”
Atlanta (9-1) bounced back from its first loss. Michael Turner scored the winning touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:40 remaining, and Larry Fitzgerald couldn’t hang on to a fourth-down pass that would’ve given the feeble Cardinals a chance to pull it out.
“You can’t worry about it,” said Ryan, who had never thrown more than three picks in a game. “Part of playing this position is knowing there are going to be times when you make mistakes, when you fall flat on your face.”
Ryan became the first quarterback since Green Bay’s Bart Starr in 1967 to win a game despite throwing five interceptions with no touchdowns, according to STATS LLC.
“That’s good company to be in,” Ryan said with a chuckle.
Ryan set up Turner’s winning run with four completions for 64 yards, including a 9-yarder to Tony Gonzalez that was just short of the end zone. Turner scored on the next play.
Both teams struggled offensively in the second half. The Cardinals took a 19-16 lead on Feely’s fourth field goal.
The Falcons finally came alive on a 70-yard drive.
With Julio Jones sidelined by an ankle injury, Ryan completed an 11-yard pass to third receiver Harry Douglas, then a 26-yarder to Douglas into Arizona territory. Roddy White hauled in an 18-yard pass before Ryan, on third-and-5 at the Arizona 10, went to ol’ reliable. Gonzalez grabbed the pass and stretched for the goal line, getting his helmet knocked off in the process.
The officials ruled him down about a foot short. Turner carried it in from there, standing defiantly in the end zone in front of the cheering Atlanta fans who had booed him earlier for the Falcons’ continuing problems running the ball.
Arizona had one more chance, after Ryan had a pass deflected at the line, the ball wobbling into the arms of Cardinals linebacker Sam Acho at the Falcons 32.
On fourth-and-2 with just over 3 minutes remaining, Lindley threw a pass that Fitzgerald appeared to haul in at the 5 before tumbling out of bounds. But as he took a hit from William Moore, Fitzgerald rolled over and the ball came loose. The Falcons took over and ran out the clock.
Ryan completed 28 of 48 for 301 yards.
After trailing 13-0, the Falcons rallied to tie it up by halftime, coming up with a huge defensive play after the Cardinals brought in Lindley.
As the rookie dropped back to pass on third down, John Abraham came in from the blind side and got his hand on the ball a split-second before Lindley’s arm came forward. While both teams mostly stood around, thinking it was an incomplete pass, Abraham motioned for Jonathan Babineaux to pick up it up. The 300-pound tackle did just that, running 15 yards for a stunning touchdown.
“Multiple players told me they heard a whistle, and that’s why they stopped,” Whisenhunt insisted. “It wasn’t just one guy. It was a bunch of them.
“You always tell them to play through the play, but what do you say to your players when they say they thought they heard a whistle and thought the play was dead.”
With a nod to Gonzalez, Babineaux feigned like was going to dunk the ball over the crossbar, but just flipped it over instead.
Call it a celebratory layup.
“We’re always taught to finish play,” Babineaux said. “I looked at the ref. I saw him running, so I figured the play was still going.”
Notes: Stephens-Howling had only 184 yards rushing coming into the game. … The Falcons lost CB Asante Samuel (right shoulder) in the first half. Jones (right ankle) hobbled off in the fourth quarter. …. Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson was slowed by a hamstring injury.