NFL: Monday night: worst teams in worst division
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – A few months ago, pairing Arizona and San Francisco on Monday night seemed like a good idea: the two-time NFC West champion Cardinals against the 49ers team that was supposed to win it this year.
Instead, a nationwide audience can tune in, or tune out, a game between the worst teams in the NFL’s worst division.
“I don’t make the schedule,” Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald said. “I just go play when they tell me to play.”
The 49ers and Cardinals each lug 3-7 records into the contest.
Arizona, playing the first of three straight at home, has lost five in a row, its longest skid since dropping eight straight in 2006, Dennis Green’s final season as coach. Last Sunday, San Francisco was shut out at home for the first time since 1977, 21-0 by Tampa Bay.
“In your opinion, if you think it’s going to be a bad Monday night game, I wouldn’t watch,” 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis said. “But for me, I think it is going to be a good Monday night game.”
It’s bound to be more entertaining, he said, than the last two Monday games, San Diego’s 35-14 win over Denver last week, preceded a week earlier by Philadelphia’s 59-28 drubbing of Washington.
“They’re supposed to be prima donna teams of the league and look how that looked,” Willis said.
And, despite their bad records, the 49ers and Cardinals can, with a straight face, say they are still in the division race. That’s because first-place Seattle is just 5-5.
“We certainly haven’t given up. I know that I haven’t,” Willis said. “I know that my teammates haven’t because the opportunity is still there. We still have a lot of division games to play.”
Arizona quarterback Derek Anderson said the same thing.
“We have four games at home (out of six) to finish the year,” he said. “We are two games out in this division. Anything can happen. By no means are we out of it completely.”
Forget about the division race, Whisenhunt said, the Cardinals just need to stop the free-fall.
“I’m worried about trying to get our team to play the way it’s capable of playing and winning a football game. Our fans deserve that,” he said.
This is new territory for Whisenhunt. His longest losing streak since coming to Arizona in 2007 was three games in his first season.
The Cardinals’ defense has been bad and their offense worse. Arizona ranks in the bottom five in the NFL in all six major categories: 29th in total defense, 28th in run defense, 27th in pass defense, 31st in total offense, 28th in run offense and 28th in pass offense.
Whisenhunt has seemed befuddled by the fact his team practices well but falls apart in nearly every area at crucial times in games.
“I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but I don’t have a complaint with the way they’re working,” he said. “We make mistakes in practice, which is normal and you correct it and you work on it. But we just have made too many mistakes in the games. It’s frustrating.”
Arizona’s offense never has found its stride with Anderson, and briefly Max Hall, replacing the retired Kurt Warner at quarterback. In last week’s 31-13 loss at Kansas City, the Cardinals’ lone touchdown – a 3-yard pass from Anderson to Fitzgerald – came on the final play of the game.
Whisenhunt worries about the emotional toll the losing streak has taken.
“This game is a lot about confidence,” he said. “It’s about momentum. When you’re making those mistakes and you give up plays like we have given up, it does affect the way you play, unfortunately.”
A fast start Monday night might be necessary to keep the Arizona fans from turning ugly.
“It would be good to have some good things happen early,” Whisenhunt said. “We could build off that, but if it doesn’t we have to be strong enough that we can overcome it.”
Whisenhunt put his team through a brief workout on Thanksgiving. San Francisco coach Mike Singletary held some morning meetings but didn’t have his players practice.
“Sometimes the mental preparation is just as important as the other,” he said, “but we do have guys that are banged up, we do have guys on the defensive and offensive side of the ball that need to take a step back, and if we can get them a breather here and there, get them off their feet, it’s going to help us.”
Even though Alex Smith is healthy, Troy Smith will makes his fourth straight start at quarterback for San Francisco. He threw for 552 yards in victories over Denver and St. Louis, but last week against Tampa, he was held to 148 yards with an interception and was sacked six times.
He expects better of himself on a national stage.
“It’s a football game, and other than that, I try not to make one situation bigger than the next,” Troy Smith said. “It’s definitely a prime time game, and you’ve got to step up and be able to play in the big games, but we’re going to prepare the same way we always do. It’s just the days in the week are kind of pushed back. We’re getting ready.”