TEMPE, AZ - The Arizona Cardinals entered the final week of the season with uncertainty at quarterback.
How fitting for a team that's misery on the field has been defined by poor play at that position.
Coach Ken Whisenhunt said Monday he wasn't ready to say whether Brian Hoyer would be the choice. It seems a pretty good guess considering the problems Ryan Lindley has had, and the fact Hoyer was active and John Skelton inactive Sunday, when Chicago handed the Cardinals (5-10) their 10th loss in 11 games.
Hoyer, claimed off waivers by the Cardinals from Pittsburgh two weeks ago, would be making his first NFL start if he's the choice for Sunday's game at San Francisco, where the 49ers will be looking to clinch the NFC West.
With the 49ers certain to be cranky following their one-sided loss at Seattle, it's not exactly an ideal location for an opposing quarterback to make his debut.
But after spending three seasons as a backup in New England and a mere three weeks with the Steelers this season, Hoyer would cherish any chance he gets. He had some good moments, and one very ill-advised throw, in relief of Lindley on Sunday.
In what he considered an audition, Hoyer completed 11 of 19 for 105 yards with one interception and no touchdowns. In fact, the Cardinals have failed to throw a TD pass in the last six games.
"Anytime you're out there on the field, it's your resume," Hoyer said. "You have to go out there and take advantage of every opportunity you're given. In New England I didn't get many opportunities to get on the field. I was excited to play the game (Sunday). It has been a while since I got to play and play an extensive role."
It's not overly simplistic to say that Arizona's season could have been far different with consistently solid quarterback play, rather than just the opposite. Kevin Kolb had the most success. From the time he took over late in the season opener against Seattle to the moment he went down with a rib injury that ultimately ended his season in Week 6, Arizona went 4-2. He threw eight touchdown passes with three interceptions.
The trio of Skelton, Lindley and Hoyer has a combined two TDs and 17 interceptions. Several immediately became touchdowns. In the last five games, Arizona quarterbacks threw 11 interceptions and four of them have been brought back for scores. The latest, a 10-yarder by Charles Tillman, sent Lindley to the bench in favor of Hoyer early in the second half Sunday.
"There's no question that we've got to have more consistency from the quarterback position, that's the No. 1 thing," Whisenhunt said at his weekly Monday news conference . "You look at last night's (Seattle-San Francisco) game and what a difference Russell Wilson has made in Seattle with all the plays that he makes. That's what you have to have."
Quarterback will be near the top of the to-do list when the season is over, and just who is in charge of that list is an open question. Cardinals President Michael Bidwill says he will assess the situation after the final game to determine if Whisenhunt comes back for the last year of his contract. General manager Rod Graves also might be gone. If Whisenhunt stays, some of his assistants almost certainly won't.
Kolb, plagued by injuries in his two seasons in Arizona, probably would have to take a pay cut to return.
Running back is another issue.
Will the Cardinals stick with Beanie Wells one more time? Plagued by injuries much of his pro career, Wells handed the Bears their first touchdown when he slid to his backside near the Arizona goal line and dropped the ball although no one had touched him. Zack Bowman gathered it and lunged across the goal line for the score.
Wells barely played after that, although he said he wasn't hurt. His gained 3 yards, helping to cement Arizona's status as the worst running team in pro football.
Whisenhunt agreed with the characterization it was a "strange" play by Wells.
"If you have the ball, that's your responsibility. You can't turn it over. I don't care who you are. I don't care what position you play," Whisenhunt said. "In the NFL, if you turn the ball over, you're not going to play. That's the way it goes. That's been through history. There have been guys who have been good players that couldn't hold on to the football."
It would be helpful if Arizona could ease out of its season against a team that had secured all it could and might be resting some of its best players. The 49ers' loss in Seattle ruined that.
Now safety Kerry Rhodes said the Cardinals could be in for an embarrassing afternoon if they just go through the motions to get the season finally over.
"You'd better come ready to play. You'd better be prepared," he said, "or it could be another Seattle episode."
The score of that
one just two weeks ago, should anyone have forgotten, was Seattle 58, Arizona 0, the most one-sided loss in Cardinals history.