ATLANTA - Another Cardinals football season hurtled closer to the cliff on Sunday, despite the head coach pumping the brakes and turning the wheel.
Players have been benched, the roles of others' diminished. Against the Falcons on Sunday, Ken Whisenhunt even went to a rookie quarterback when the team had a 13-0 lead in the second quarter.
Nothing worked, except the defense, and the Cardinals blew an opportunity for an upset, losing 23-19 in a game that nearly every other NFL team would have won.
Atlanta committed six turnovers, including four on its side of the field. The Cardinals scored only 13 points out of those miscues and returned home with a six-game losing streak.
"We didn't do enough offensively, obviously," Whisenhunt said.
Yes, it was obvious. The Cardinals passed for just 41 yards, gained only 178 overall and converted only two of 16 third-down opportunities.
Whisenhunt's patience is gone. That was obvious in the first quarter, when quarterback John Skelton missed badly on a throw to receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who was open in the end zone.
The Cardinals had the proper play called. Fitzgerald was open by several yards. The ball sailed several yards away from him.
The Cardinals kicked a field goal to lead 13-0 but should have been ahead by 17 points.
By the second quarter, Skelton was wearing a ball cap on the sideline and rookie Ryan Lindley was playing.
"We had a play that was open, and you've got to make that throw," Whisenhunt said. "We felt like at that point, we'd give Ryan a chance, see if he could make those throws."
There wasn't much difference. Skelton completed 2 of 7 passes. Lindley was 9 of 20 for 64 yards. Running back LaRod Stephens-Howling provided most of the team's offense, rushing for 127 yards, including the only TD.
Whisenhunt spent the past two weeks preaching accountability and vowing to bench players who weren't producing.
He fulfilled those promises. Rookie Nate Potter started at left tackle in place of D'Anthony Batiste. Strong safety Adrian Wilson, a 12-year veteran, played in the base defense but not in obvious passing situations. Rookie receiver Michael Floyd was benched when he couldn't line up correctly. And Skelton never re-entered the game.
"I don't think anyone is exempt," Skelton said. "Getting benched is part of the game."
The Falcons (9-1) felt fortunate to win, because they didn't have much business doing so. Quarterback Matt Ryan was intercepted five times, and the Falcons also lost a fumble. The Cardinals committed only one turnover, when Lindley fumbled on a sack on third down. The ball floated downfield, and the Cardinals never pursued it, thinking it was an incomplete pass.
Fitzgerald, the target on the play, ran to the sideline. But defensive tackle Jonathan Babineaux picked it up and returned it 15 yards for a score. Replay upheld the ruling.
Some said they heard whistles, but Fitzgerald said, "That was an idiotic play on my part. I didn't hear any whistles. I should have ... jumped on the ball."
Ryan's last interception came with 4:16 left, giving the Cardinals a chance to win it. They took over at the Falcons 32 and moved to the 24. But on fourth down, Lindley threw to Fitzgerald down the sideline and he lost it as he fell out of bounds. "I've made that play plenty of times before in my career," Fitzgerald said.
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