ATLANTA – Only a few days earlier, Steve Wilks explained that, even in the rough times, it made sense to keep playing rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.
The reps – and the experience – were invaluable. There were things to be learned, even with mistakes or getting hit.
Then Sunday, as too much time remained on the clock in a game long since over, the coach took his QB out, the pounding too much. "It was the smart decision," the head coach said, after backup Mike Glennon guided the offense at the end of an ugly 40-14 loss to the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
But Rosen isn't going anywhere. He will start next week in the home finale against the Rams, and barring something similarly ugly, he won't be taken out again.
"I would be worried, but Josh is not wired like most guys," wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. "Honestly, to see him on a good day, after a win, his emotions are the same. As a rookie, he's got a great disposition about him. I'm not worried about that. It was a rough game for all of us, but (Josh) is going to be fine."
The Falcons sacked Rosen six times (and got Glennon once), a season-high for a defense that had struggled to get to the quarterback. They got three turnovers, intercepting Rosen twice and getting a strip-sack, with the first interception a batted ball that linebacker Deion Jones returned 41 yards for a touchdown.
That came early, after the Cardinals (3-11) had a 7-0 lead when Rosen directed a 64-yard opening touchdown drive highlighted by a beautiful 40-yard deep ball to running back David Johnson.
Post-interception, the Falcons turned up the pressure. There were times Rosen could have thrown it sooner, but an inexperienced fill-in offensive line broke down and an equally struggling receiving corps was not enough of a threat. There was nothing good that was going to come of it.
"It was frustrating," Rosen said. "A couple were my fault … I've got to play better. We've all got to play better, but I don't want anyone to look into the stats and think everything is on the O-line."
Rosen completed 13-of-22 passes for 132 yards. Glennon, with the Falcons (5-9) knowing the game was in hand, was able to complete 10-of-14 throws for 111 yards and a late touchdown to Trent Sherfield, the rookie's first NFL score.
"It was not the ideal day at the office," guard Oday Aboushi said. "It had a lot to do with everybody, but at the end of the day (sacks) are a stat that falls on us."
Fitzgerald got some late work to finish with seven catches for 82 yards, one of his better games. But it was statistical filler in a game long decided. A more critical stat was the 215 yards rushing by Atlanta, a team that came into the game last in the league in running the ball. Falcons running back Tevin Coleman had only 11 carries but 145 yards.
The Cardinals, on the other hand, ran for a total of 60 yards. Outside of the opening 64-yard drive, the Rosen-led offense could only generate 89 yards before Glennon came in.
"I take full responsibility for what happened," Wilks said. "It's not acceptable. Not even close."
At this point in the season, victories aren't atop the priority list. It's Rosen, and taking him out of a game was about the Falcons, not about the rest of the season. Rosen wants that chance to work through mistakes, noting that they can sit with him during a game, they sit with him postgame and again Monday.
Then, Rosen said, he has to put it behind him. That's why he wants to play, why sitting out is important to him.
"Because I messed up a lot of reps," Rosen said. "Hopefully I don't mess those up in the future."
Fitzgerald insisted he didn't have the answer on how to deal with Rosen in the final two games. But he understands the thought process of getting the rookie out there, even in rough seas like Sunday.
"I'm not quarterback guru," Fitzgerald said. "I don't know the recipe for that stuff. I know he's the quarterback of the future here and getting reps and dealing with adversity will teach him.
"This is definitely not what you want, but this is his team. He is taking control of this offense, and we have to stand behind him."
Images from the Week 15 contest in Atlanta