The Arizona Cardinals: For a team to lose 58-0, it needs “contributions” from nearly every player, coach and front office executive. The Cardinals got that sort of effort on Sunday. With Kevin Kolb still out with a rib injury, and Kurt Warner happily discussing football on the NFL Network, head coach Ken Whisenhunt re-inserted John Skelton into the starting lineup on Sunday. Skelton rewarded Whisenhunt by completing 11 of 22 pass attempts for 74 yards and four interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, and losing one of his two fumbles on the afternoon before he was yanked in favor of Ryan Lindley.
Lindley, a sixth-round pick out of San Diego State, completed 8 of 17 pass attempts for 59 yards and was sacked twice but was the quarterback who finally hooked up with Pro Bowl wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who had one reception for 2 yards on a game-high 11 targets. Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman and rookie linebacker Bobby Wagner each caught more passes from Skelton than Fitzgerald did on Sunday.
Let’s not place this loss entirely on the shoulders of the quarterbacks. The defense allowed 284 yards rushing, with both Marshawn Lynch and rookie Robert Turbin going over 100 yards on the day. Rookie quarterback Russell Wilson passed for 148 yards on just seven touchdowns and Seattle tight ends combined for five receptions for 134 yards and a touchdown. The Seahawks also scored a touchdown when All-Pro punt returner Patrick Peterson muffed a Jon Ryan punt, which was finally recovered by Seattle linebacker Malcolm Smith in the end zone.
After a 4-0 start, the Cardinals have lost nine straight games and both Whisenhunt and GM Rod Graves are squarely on the hot seat. So much so that they probably contemplated signing Vince Young, who made it known that he is available. Unfortunately, the fates of Whisenhunt and Graves may have already been sealed as a prospective head coach (Ray Horton) is already on the coaching staff and the Cardinals beefed up their front office with the offseason hiring of future GM Jason Licht, who spent the past few years with the New England Patriots.
The Pittsburgh Steelers: The entire Steelers team deserves an “F” for laying an egg, at home, against the reeling San Diego Chargers with the playoffs on the line. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was rusty, though his 31 rushing yards were only 1 yard behind the team lead, which says about all you need to know about how the running backs played on Sunday. Wide receiver Mike Wallace posted gaudy numbers (seven receptions, 112 yards, two touchdowns) but led a unit that dropped too many balls against the Chargers. Fellow receiver Antonio Brown’s failure to fall on a loose ball in the end zone resulted in a touchdown for the Chargers, even if the determination by the officials that the play was a lateral was questionable. The Steelers cling to the No. 6 spot in the AFC playoffs thanks to their head-to-head win over the Cincinnati Bengals, who they’ll host on Dec. 23.
The Atlanta Falcons team that played the first half against the Carolina Panthers: In the first 30 minutes of their 30-20 loss to the Panthers, the Falcons had less yards of offense (35) than the Panthers had offensive plays (45). Atlanta ran just 13 plays in the first two quarters, with Matt Ryan completing 7 of 10 pass attempts for 40 yards as no pass gained more than 9 yards. Michael Turner had just two carries for 3 yards and the Falcons were 0 for 2 on third-down conversion attempts. Defensively, the Falcons were without safety William Moore and cornerback Asante Samuel (who dressed, but did not play), but that’s no excuse for giving up 270 yards to the Panthers, including 99 yards on the ground. Despite their 11-1 record entering Sunday, many had doubts on whether or not the Falcons will show in January. Losing to a three-win team in December will do little to quiet their critics.
Drew Brees, quarterback, New Orleans Saints: The Saints’ playoff ship has sailed as Brees remains mired in an awful slump at the tail end of a season that began with him receiving a contract extension that will pay him $40 million in 2012. Over the last three games, Brees has more than twice as many interceptions (nine) as touchdowns (four), including two costly picks in Sunday’s 52-27 loss to the New York Giants.
Down 21-13 at the start of the third quarter, Brees’ pass towards tight end Jimmy Graham was picked off by safety Stevie Brown, who returned the ball to the Saints’ 20-yard line. Four plays later, running back David Wilson scored on a 6-yard run to extend the Giants’ lead to 15 points. In the fourth quarter, another Brees’ pass towards Graham, this one deep in Giants’ territory, was snared by Brown, who returned it to the Saints’ 22-yard line, setting up a 39-yard field goal by Lawrence Tynes that extended New York’s lead to 18 points with just over 10 minutes to play.
Peter Morelli’s officiating crew: The Indianapolis Colts may have felt they were playing short-handed in their 27-23 win over the Tennessee Titans. The biggest gaffe from Morelli’s crew came in the first half when they let an interception return for a touchdown by Titans linebacker Will Witherspoon stand even though Colts quarterback Andrew Luck was clearly down before releasing the football. The Colts would overcome that ruling and take a 21-20 lead late in the third quarter behind a 1-yard touchdown run by Delone Carter and an interception return for a touchdown by Cassius Vaughn before the officials would again gave the Titans a boost that led to points.
A curious holding penalty on linebacker Moise Fokou negated a sack of Jake Locker by Robert Mathis on a third-and-8 play that would have forced the Titans to punt. A few plays later, a phantom defensive pass interference penalty on Antoine Bethea on a third-and-5 play from midfield once again extended a Titans drive that resulted in a 25-yard field goal by Rob Bironas that put the Titans back in the lead with 10:33 to play in regulation. The Colts would win the game, and at 9-4 appeared headed for the postseason, but they got little help from the zebras on Sunday.