Ken Whisenhunt (Chris Graythen/Getty)
When the Saints ran out the final six minutes on the clock last week, Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt felt he was losing much more than one game. With no timeouts and a defense worn down by injuries, the Cardinals were helpless to stop the Saints. It was symbolic of the whole season: close, but just not good enough.
As a coach with the Steelers for the past six years, Whisenhunt was accustomed to running out the clock on opponents. He envisioned that happening many times this year with the Cardinals, so it was hard to take when it was happening to him.
"I've been on the other side of that a number of times," he said, "and it's a great feeling. But it's every bit as disappointing from this side, especially when a lot of what you worked for this year seems to have run out with the clock."
The loss, coupled with the Vikings victory Monday night, officially eliminated the Cardinals from the playoffs. The loss assured the Cardinals of a non-winning season for the 19th time in 20 seasons in Arizona.
Last Sunday's loss was a microcosm of the season. The Cardinals did some things right, just not enough of them. They did enough things wrong to cost themselves a chance to win. Two interceptions, 10 penalties and other mental errors did them in.
"I feel like we're close," Whisenhunt said, "and I think the number of games we've been in this year is a good indication of that.
"Our guys have played hard. Maybe not always smart like we'd like to be, but that's a process that we're growing and learning from, and we're going to get better."
Still, an 8-8 record would be an accomplishment for several reasons: It's Whisenhunt's first year with the Cardinals. It would be the third time in 20 years the team would have a .500 record. And it would break a string of five straight seasons in which the team lost 10 games or more.
SERIES HISTORY: 24th meeting. Cardinals lead, 13-10. The Falcons are just one of four organizations the Cardinals have a winning record against. The Falcons have won four straight, including a 32-10 blowout last year in Atlanta. The Falcons outscored the Cardinals 20-0 in the second half. Kurt Warner lost his starting job after that game. He had a pass intercepted and returned for a touchdown.
--Receiver Larry Fitzgerald was the only player selected for the Pro Bowl, although defensive end Darnell Dockett and running back Edgerrin James were selected as first alternates.
"It's bittersweet, it really is," Fitzgerald said. "To come so close to realizing our goals as a team and to fall short of it again this year, that's frustrating. Especially the last couple weeks, because I haven't been able to physically do what I'm capable of doing to help my team win."
By making the Pro Bowl, Fitzgerald's salary for 2008 increases by $5 million. He feigned ignorance about the clause at first. Fitzgerald has a cap number of $14.6 million next year, so the team needs to extend his contract and lower that figure. "I love playing for the Cardinals. I love this organization, and I love the city of Phoenix," Fitzgerald said. "If they want me to be a Cardinal for a long time, I would be more than happy to be one. If that's in the works, then let's make it happen."
--RB Edgerrin James has 1,052 rushing yards. He is the first Cardinals running back since Ottis Anderson in 1983-84 to rush for 1,000 yards in consecutive seasons. "Getting to 1,000 yards rushing for a season doesn't mean anything when you lose. That's all I'm going to say about that."
BY THE NUMBERS: 21 -- That's the number of touchdown passes Kurt Warner has thrown this year. It's the most by a Cardinals quarterback since Neil Lomax had 28 in 1987.
QUOTE TO NOTE: "We're not feeling sorry for them and they're damn sure not feeling sorry for us." -- Defensive end Darnell Dockett, on Atlanta's numerous problems this season.