On opening day of the 2012 season, John Skelton was the Cardinals’ starting quarterback. On Sunday against the Bears, he was inactive. Coach Ken Whisenhunt said he had hoped to have all three QBs active but was forced by injuries to make a decision in order to make Brian Hoyer active.
That may or may not be true — and we may or may not have seen the last of John Skelton in a Cardinals uniform. Skelton will become a restricted free agent after the season. Given his lack of progress in his third season and the Cardinals’ desperate need for production at that position, they could release him and try to find a veteran while also possibly drafting a QB.
Ryan Lindley got the start Sunday and was actually outplaying Bears quarterback Jay Cutler early (that’s not saying much considering Cutler started 1 for 11), but he was benched when he threw his lone interception, which Bears cornerback Charles Tillman returned for a 10-yard touchdown and a 28-6 lead. On the play, Lindley locked onto receiver Andre Roberts and Tillman sat on the route (it should also be noted that Roberts did little to try to break up the interception).
Lindley’s benching gave Hoyer, acquired two weeks ago, his first game action in a Cardinals uniform. Hoyer went 11 of 19 for 105 yards but also threw an interception.
“I can’t take my mind off that interception,” Hoyer said of a throw that Kelvin Hayden returned to the Arizona 10-yard line. “It was a dumb decision. I tried to force it — tried to pump the underneath guy and hit behind. That one will stay with me for a few days.”
Whisenhunt hasn’t decided who will start at QB for the club’s season finale at San Francisco, preferring to watch the film before making a decision. Regardless, does it really matter? Without Kevin Kolb, the Cards don’t have a chance with their current three QBs.
“It’s tough, isn’t it?” Whisenhunt said. “I said it before: We’re not getting production out of that position, and it’s hard to win in this league if you don’t do better from that standpoint.”
Safety Justin Bethel made a name for himself in college at tiny Presbyterian by blocking kicks. He came within an eyelash of doing it on Sunday, but teammate Adrian Wilson beat him to the punch, blocking his first field goal since Sept. 12, 2010, at St. Louis when he denied a 20-yard attempt by Bears kicker Olindo Mare late in the fourth quarter.
That was OK with Bethel, who scooped up the bouncing ball and returned it 82 yards for his first career touchdown.
“It feels good,” the rookie told azcardinals.com. “I’ve been waiting for it for a long time. I’m still trying to block me one, but I’ll take the touchdown.”
Bethel was drafted in part because of his eye-popping special-teams skills — and his speed and leaping ability — but this was the first significant play he has made on that unit, which had one of its best days of the season when you factor in Michael Adams’ recovery of a muffed punt and Dave Zastudil’s six punts downed inside the 20-yard line.
With his performance Sunday, Zastudil set the NFL single-season record for most punts downed inside the 20 with 44.
Earlier Sunday, Chiefs punter Dustin Colquitt tied the 49ers’ Andy Lee, the Giants’ Steve Weatherford and former Cardinal Ben Graham with his 42nd only to have Zastudil pass them all.
THE 100 MARK
Receiver Larry Fitzgerald got a taste of what it’s like to be Lions receiver Calvin Johnson on Sunday. Fitzgerald finished the loss to the Bears with 111 yards — 61 from Lindley and 50 from Hoyer — on eight catches, but it came in a losing effort, as most of Johnson’s superlative efforts have this season.
It was the first time since Sept. 23 against Philadelphia that Fitzgerald topped the 100-yard mark. Fitz had just 89 yards in his last five games combined.
WHITHER WELLS AND WILSON?
Running back Beanie Wells carried the ball just four times Sunday — and only once after his critical fumble on the Cardinals’ goal line led to the Bears’ first score. On the play, Wells’ knee buckled as he tried to cut. That’s unavoidable sometimes. What can’t happen is what Wells did a split second later: fumble. Chicago corner Zack Bowman scooped up the offering and shuffled about a foot to the end zone to give the Bears a 6-0 lead.
Wells said he was not injured on the play.
“I moved forward and kind of fell back,” said Wells, who was at a loss to explain the fumble to coach Ken Whisenhunt.
“No, he really couldn’t,” Whisenhunt said. “I mean, from what I saw, obviously you can’t put the ball on the ground, especially not there.”
Wells could be a free agent after this season (the team has an option for 2013). Given his history of injuries and just one season of significant productivity, it’s debatable whether he will return next season with both Ryan Williams and LaRod Stephens-Howling expected back.
“It is what it is,” Wells said. “Who knows how it’s going to turn out from here?”
The same must be wondered about Wilson, who has been replaced by safeties Rashad Johnson (inactive Sunday) and James Sanders in nickel packages this season. Wilson restructured his contract in the offseason, but his tearful address to the media after last week’s win over Detroit suggested he might be seeing the writing on the wall.
“If they make a decision, I’m pretty sure it’s going to be pretty quick,” said Wilson, who dreads the thought of playing for another team. “What goes through my mind is I’m going to have to move my family. I’m going to have to find my kids another school. Will they like the school? That’s what goes through my mind — my family Not me, personally, because I can adjust.”
Whisenhunt said tight end Rob Housler will not play in the team’s finale at San Francisco. He suffered a sprained AC join (shoulder) against the Bears.