Cardinals sinking toward rock bottom after loss
After a one-week reprieve, the Arizona Cardinals are falling toward rock bottom more than ever after a loss to lowly Carolina.
Now they take their act on national television for a Christmas night encounter with the Dallas Cowboys, Arizona's final home game in a miserable season.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt echoed his familiar season-long themes on Monday: His team is making too many mistakes and failing to convert on big plays that were there.
Whisenhunt would not, however, concede that the Cardinals (4-10), losers of eight of their last nine, simply lack talent.
''I don't necessarily think it is talent as much as it is we have a lot of young guys, new guys,'' he said, ''and there is a transition that we're suffering through.''
Before this year, Whisenhunt had not had a losing regular season since he was hired as coach in 2007. The team went 8-8, 9-7 and 10-6 the past three years - winning the NFC West the last two. Of course, the 2008 squad went on a postseason run that landed them in the Super Bowl, and last year's squad beat Green Bay in a memorable divisional playoff before being hammered by eventual Super Bowl champion New Orleans.
But those teams had Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle, Anquan Boldin and, most of all, Kurt Warner.
The quarterback situation has been a mess since Warner retired. Rookie John Skelton is the third starting quarterback Whisenhunt has used. The coach said he would stick with Skelton even if Derek Anderson, sidelined with a concussion, is cleared to play.
Skelton struggled early, throwing his first NFL interception, which led to Carolina's lone touchdown. He also fumbled the ball away and, Whisenhunt said, missed some calls at the line of scrimmage. But he also liked the way Skelton recovered.
''I think the way he handled himself later in the game is reason to have a lot of optimism about him as a quarterback,'' the coach said.
The Cardinals ended a seven-game skid by beating Denver 43-13, and Whisenhunt hoped the success would carry over to Carolina, but it didn't happen.
Dropped passes continued to be a problem. The Cardinals of recent seasons were among the most sure-handed teams in the NFL, but there were at least five drops on Sunday.
''I wish I could tell you what it is,'' Whisenhunt said. ''Sometimes you make those and sometimes you don't. This year we haven't been making those plays consistently enough. That's a big part of momentum and confidence with your team. It's obvious that we've had the plays there. We're just not coming down with those plays that we need to.''
The players won't return to practice until Wednesday. Skelton said after the game there were several breakdowns by the offense.
''There were a couple where I missed wide open receivers running wide with no pressure and then there were others where we had blocking breakdowns, and we had guys running open,'' he said. ''It's one or two guys not doing their job which in the end, ends up in a loss.''
Arizona's red zone defense continued to shine amid a host of other problems, forcing the Panthers to kick field goals four times.
''We have a scheme that we play down there that our guys play well,'' Whisenhunt said. ''They communicate well, they believe in it, and they make some plays. Unfortunately, what we're not doing in a lot of other areas on all parts of the field.''
Whisenhunt was told that television analysts on CBS covered their eyes and made fun of the matchup between Arizona and what was a one-win Carolina team.
''That's business in the NFL if you don't play well, you're going to be subject to that. We understand that,'' the coach said. ''Do I like it? No, of course not. Our players don't like it. Like I said before, we have feelings, we have pride, we're working hard to try and do better than what we've done.''
If the Cardinals don't win another game, their 4-12 record would be the team's worst since finishing with the same mark in 2003.
Whisenhunt was asked if he wished the season was over now.
''It's been a very painful year for all of us. For our fans, for our players, for our coaches,'' he said. ''We have worked very hard, and to not get results is always very frustrating, but there are a lot of elements - I'm still encouraged about working with our team.''