Linebacker Gerald Hayes takes a moment in the end zone during Monday night's difficult 27-6 loss to San Francisco.
In a locker room filled with quiet and frustration, it was a smile that reverberated around the Cardinals Monday night.
The Cards had just lost to the 49ers, 27-6, at University of Phoenix Stadium. At one point late in the contest, ESPN cameras showed quarterback Derek Anderson and guard Deuce Lutui on the bench talking and Anderson smiling at something Lutui said.
Anderson said Lutui was just trying to say something positive in a situation that was anything but. When pressed on the subject, Anderson became loudly animated.
"What Deuce and I talk about is nobody else's business," Anderson said. "I wasn't laughing … You think this is funny and I take this (expletive) serious. Real serious. I put my heart and soul into this (expletive) every single week.
"I tell you what I do every single week. Every single week I put my freaking heart and soul into this. I study my ass off. I don't go and laugh. It's not funny. Nothing's funny to me. I don't want to go out and get embarrassed on 'Monday Night Football' in front of everybody."
Anderson then ended his press conference, but the final sentiment was certainly something all the Cardinals – who dropped their sixth straight game – were feeling.
"I'm sick of losing," wide receiver Steve Breaston said, shaking his head. "And right now, I said I wasn't going to talk about and I'm rambling.
"Ever since I got here, I've never been a part of something like this. I've been through some downs and we have responded. This is one of those trying times."
It will likely get harder. The loss pushes the Cardinals (3-8) to the bottom of the NFC West standings. Climbing over three teams to win the division – no matter how weak the division is – feels, if not mathematically impossible, unrealistic.
Not that the players are thinking beyond anything but getting a single win anymore.
"It's about finishing strong, going out with a sense of pride," running back Beanie Wells said. "Not letting anyone walk over us."
Monday, the tone was set on the first play of both the Cardinals' defense and offense. San Francisco running back Frank Gore broke off a 25-yard run on the first play from scrimmage, and while the 49ers (4-7) eventually missed a field goal at the end of the drive, it began a big game on the ground.
The break the Cards thought they got on the miss, however, was negated in an instant. Anderson and Wells couldn't connect on a handoff, and the 49ers immediately recovered the fumble.
On the next play, 49ers quarterback Troy Smith hit Michael Crabtree for a 38-yard touchdown pass that gave San Francisco a lead it never relinquished.
Gore fractured his right hip on that first series, ending his season. No matter. Backup Brian Westbrook, who last had a 100-yard game in December of 2008 and who had barely played this season, gained 136 yards on 23 carries. San Francisco ended up with 261 rushing yards, compared to 13 for the Cards.
"We still aren't doing our part as a defense," cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie said. "They did what they wanted to do with us. Seems we couldn't stop them."
The times the defense did, the Cards' offense couldn't capitalize. Trailing 21-3 late in the second quarter, the Cards embarked on a drive inside the San Francisco 20. A throw to wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald in the end zone looked like an 18-yard touchdown – until Fitzgerald lost the ball when he hit the ground. The Cards settled for a field goal.
Cornerback Michael Adams came up with an interception at the San Francisco 42 moments later, but a chance to drive for some final points fizzled when Anderson threw three straight incompletions. A blocked field goal by Rodgers-Cromartie went nowhere.
"To say I'm extremely disappointed would be an understatement," coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "It was a very poor effort tonight and we got beat in all phases of the game."
The Cards are in a new place compared to the last couple of seasons, trying to find motivations when the biggest one – making the postseason – has faded.
"It's tough because you don't know what you are playing for," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said. "We are used to trying to get into the playoffs.
"We have to stay together. … I don't think there is a guy on this team who wants to lose every week and we are doing the best we can."
Whisenhunt said that with a short week it would be hard to make personnel changes before Sunday's home game against St. Louis, which among other things seemed to say Anderson – who was 16-for-35 for 196 yards, no touchdowns and one interception -- will remain the starting quarterback.
Whisenhunt also said, again, that the Cards will come out of it if they continue to work.
"It's going to show up on Sunday," Whisenhunt said. "I just am going to pray it shows up next Sunday."
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