This season turned into a salvage job weeks ago, but it was made official with Sunday's 19-12 loss to the Panthers. The Cardinals were eliminated from the playoffs after making appearances the previous two seasons.
That might not sound like much of an accomplishment, but for Arizona, the two-year playoff run was monumental. They had made it just one previous time since moving from St. Louis in 1988.
This year's collapse wouldn't be disheartening for fans if there was more hope on the horizon. But the Cardinals don't have an established quarterback. Their receivers are dropping far more than their share of passes. And their big-name defensive players have all had sub-standard seasons.
At the beginning of the season, the Christmas night game against the Cowboys looked like an attractive matchup between playoff contenders. Before the Cardinals' recent success, the Cowboys were unquestionably the most popular team in Arizona, a byproduct of an era when their games were shown regularly in the market.
But this Christmas night game is intriguing only in that it's the only game on in prime time. The Cowboys are 5-9, although they have won four of their last six under interim coach Jason Garrett.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, have made no improvement this season. They have lost eight of their last nine, falling to 4-10, and causing their fans to look ahead to the draft and free agency.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt has declined to talk much about what will happen after the season but big changes will come. The Cardinals have several big-money players -- quarterback Derek Anderson and linebackers Joey Porter and Gerald Hayes -- who likely won't return.
Whisenhunt is also expected to shake up his coaching staff, probably starting with the defense.
Rookie linebackers Daryl Washington and O'Brien Schofield are expected to start Saturday against…