Embarrassed on national TV, Cardinals look for ways to stop free fall

Embarrassed on Monday night, the Arizona Cardinals are left to try to pick up the pieces of a season that once seemed so promising but now shows signs of a free fall.

Coach Ken Whisenhunt, who endured a six-game losing streak a year ago, is not one to panic and said so in his news conference a day after the Cardinals were manhandled by the San Francisco 49ers 24-3.

The nationally televised flop was Arizona's fourth loss in a row after a 4-0 start.

"My biggest sense is that I feel like I've let our fans down," Whisenhunt said. "We've let our fans down as a team, and that hurts."

Now comes a short week of practice and a trip to Green Bay to face the Packers on Sunday.

The players had Tuesday off before returning to the practice field on Wednesday. Whisenhunt will be looking to the team's leaders to help emphasize what needs to be done to turn things around.

"We'll get on these guys more, and I think one of the things is we'll have the players get on the players," the coach said. "Peer pressure plays a part in that. You've got to get on your leaders to do that, but let's not get into a panic here and start changing things up. We're going to continue to do what we do, and we're going to do it better."

It was the same mantra heard from the coach a year ago after the team's 1-6 start. The Cardinals won seven of their last nine to finish 8-8.

Maybe somewhere in this team is the makings of the same kind of resurgence, although it was hard to see against the 49ers.

The Cardinals have sputtered on offense pretty much all season. On Monday night, what had been a reliable defense added to the problems with a slew of missed tackles, mostly in open space, allowing what might have been short gains to become big plays.

"There's no question we've got a good defense," Whisenhunt said. "We can't miss tackles. I don't care what way the game goes, there's probably four plays in there where we're off the field, especially on third down, they throw a 5-yard pass and it turns into a big gain or a first down."

The 49ers' defense, top-ranked in the NFL, showed how it's supposed to be done.

"They made tackles, so that's why they're a top defense," Whisenhunt said. "If we aspire to be a top defense, we've got to tackle better. I don't think other than that there was much wrong with the way our guys played.

"We got a lot of things done as far as keeping the run game down, getting pressure on the quarterback, playing physical. We just gave up too many big plays, not because of balls over our head or behind us, but because we didn't tackle."

The offense, with a running game that managed just 7 yards on nine attempts, relied on the erratic arm of John Skelton far more than the Cardinals' coaches would want. Skelton, in his second start since Kevin Kolb went down with rib injuries, was 32 of 55 for 290 yards.

Whisenhunt smiled when someone asked about fans now clamoring for rookie Ryan Lindley to take over.

"I'm sure there are a lot of fans saying a lot of things," he said. "We're all frustrated with where we are because we feel like we're better than what our record indicates right now. ... We're going to continue to stay the course. The way our quarterback situation has been going, probably Lindley will get a chance to play, because it seems like we've had some issues there, but right now we're staying with John."

He apparently was talking about injuries, not saying he was considering pulling the hook on Skelton, who beat out Kolb in the preseason but went down with a sprained ankle in the opener. Kolb is a ways away from being able to practice.

Larry Fitzgerald had another frustrating game. One of the NFL's best receivers is constantly smothered by defensive coverages. He was targeted for passes 11 times, catching five for 52 yards, taking a couple of nasty hits in the process.

Whisenhunt believes it's time his team delivered more of those hits.

"Times are bad right now," center Lyle Sendlein said. "The only way to get out of that is to win games. You do that by going to work Monday through Saturday. ... Like coach told us after the game, we have to get tougher and more physical and get after them that way because at this point we aren't doing a whole bunch of things successfully. We just have to start punching people in the mouth."


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