TEMPE, Ariz. — The Arizona Cardinals offense has been bad this season, but never worse than it was on Sunday.
Its performance in the 7-6 loss to the New York Jets was among the worst in the team’s history, and that’s saying something for a franchise that’s had a lot of bad Sundays.
The team had five first downs, tied for fewest in franchise history, was 0-for-15 on third-down conversions and gained 137 yards, 40 of them on a fake punt. The Cardinals gained 22 yards in the second half.
Still, coach Ken Whisenhunt stayed with rookie quarterback Ryan Lindley, refusing to reinsert John Skelton, benched by the coach three games ago.
Now the Arizona losing streak has reached eight games, matching the franchise’s longest in 68 years.
Exceedingly popular among fans for bringing the Cardinals to the Super Bowl in the 2008 season, and to the NFC West crown the following year, Whisenhunt finds himself the subject of the fans’ wrath. Speculation is mounting that he might not return for the final year of his contract.
He said Monday that he has too much else on his mind to be concerned about his job status.
“It takes enough energy focused in trying to win, to turn it back around,” Whisenhunt said. “You can’t worry about things you can’t control.”
Team President Michael Bidwill, the owner’s son, has not spoken publicly about the situation.
Whisenhunt is among the highest-paid coaches in the NFL, due to make $5.7 million next year, and the Bidwill family is not known for tossing around that kind of money, although the ownership has proven to be far more generous recent seasons, especially since the University of Phoenix Stadium opened in 2006.
Arizona has sold out every home game since then, but the fan base is shaky and that string is in serious doubt, if not for the next home game against Detroit, then certainly for next year.
The team’s offensive woes this season have stemmed in large part from injuries, particularly to left tackle Levi Brown, quarterback Kevin Kolb and, most recently, center Lyle Sendlein, who was sorely missed against the Jets.
Yet with the defense playing so well, it’s particularly maddening to fans to watch the offense stagnate.
Lindley completed 10-of-31 passes for 72 yards with one interception and, obviously, no touchdowns. Twenty-three of those yards came on a pass to Larry Fitzgerald the second play of the game. Fitzgerald never caught another pass all day.
On Monday, Whisenhunt wouldn’t commit to staying with Lindley in next Sunday’s game at Seattle, against one of the NFL’s best defenses in one of the league’s toughest environments for a visiting team.
“We’ve got to look at it with the players today and understand why we had the breakdowns we did,” he said, “why we weren’t successful on some of these plays, and then we will decide from that point.”
The best scenario would be the return of Kolb, who was the quarterback when the team got off to a 4-0 start but who went down with a rib injury that has sidelined him for six games. Kolb has practiced on a limited basis the past two weeks but the injury, to cartilage at the top of his rib cage, is particularly iffy.
Asked if there was any realistic chance of Kolb playing in Seattle, Whisenhunt said, “the only way we will know is when he can do it in practice.”
“He is making progress,” Whisenhunt said. “Until we can get out there and see that he can make the throws and be able to do those kinds of things, then we’ll know.”
Skelton, who beat out Kolb for the starting job in the preseason only to go down with an ankle injury in the opener, said he hopes Whisenhunt hasn’t lost confidence in him. Skelton said he was ready to come into the game whenever the coach told him to on Sunday. As things got worse on the field, his desire to play grew, he said.
“Every bit of my being I wanted to play, that was going into the week, too. It’s not just on Sunday,” Skelton said. “I think anyone in the locker room wants to play. No one wants to sit on the sideline. When you see things going the way they did, it kind of makes you champ at the bit a little more.”
Whisenhunt said he thought about switching quarterbacks, but decided Lindley gave the team the best chance of winning. Others watching the game found that conclusion hard to understand.
The team that did switch quarterbacks, the Jets, mounted the game’s only touchdown drive with backup Greg McElroy at the controls.
Whisenhunt said he understands the fans’ ire about the quarterback decision.
“But we didn’t help Ryan out very much yesterday,” the coach said. “We had a lot of areas where we had problems. We are looking for the right combination to be more effective offensively. We talked about on the sideline, we talked about what was going on in the game, and we felt it was a combination of a number of things, not just the quarterback.”