Quarterback Brian Hoyer delivers a pass during Sunday's 28-13 loss to the Bears.
The Cardinals' search for a quarterback is going to be a major part of the offseason, a notion no one is going to dispute. What happens over the final couple of games in 2012 isn't going to change that.
But as the Cards suffered another loss Sunday, this time 28-13 against the Chicago Bears to close out the home schedule at University of Phoenix Stadium, another candidate got a looksee as the Cards' issues at the position continued to absorb the spotlight.
"It's tough isn't it?" coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "I said it before, we're not getting production out of that position and it's hard to win in this league when you don't do better from that standpoint."
The Bears (9-6) stayed in playoff contention by opening with a defensive touchdown – thanks to a Beanie Wells fumble on his own 1-yard line – and later added an interception return for a score. That was all that was really needed against a Cards' offense that continues to have trouble scoring, including just three points on two drives starting inside the Chicago 40-yard line.
"Whenever we get the ball at down and distance, and with a short field, we have to get points," said wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, whose eight catches for 111 yards gave him his first 100-yard game since the third week of the season.
"We want to be able to capitalize."
The only touchdown of the game for the Cards came late, when safety Adrian Wilson – playing in potentially his final home game at University of Phoenix Stadium – blocked a field goal and teammate Justin Bethel scooped it up and raced 82 yards for his first NFL touchdown.
It just isn't enough these days for the Cardinals (5-10).
Since Kevin Kolb went out with what turned out to be a season-ending rib injury, the Cardinals have used John Skelton, Ryan Lindley and, after Sunday, Brian Hoyer at quarterback. The three have thrown just two touchdown passes – both by Skelton, the last coming Nov. 4 in Green Bay – and have 15 interceptions in nine games.
Skelton was inactive Sunday – Whisenhunt said he had hoped to have all three QBs active but injuries forced him to make a decision – in order to make Hoyer active. Lindley actually had been producing more than Bears quarterback Jay Cutler, but was benched when he threw his lone interception that Bears cornerback Charles Tillman returned for a 10-yard touchdown and a 28-6 lead.
In came Hoyer, who looked remarkably sure of himself and accurate considering he had just been on the roster for two weeks prior to Sunday. But even his day had a down moment when he tried to force a pass into Larry Fitzgerald which was returned down to the Arizona 10.
"In New England I didn't get many opportunities to get on the field," said Hoyer, who completed 11-of-19 passes for 105 yards. "It's been a while since I got to play and play an extensive role. I was happy to be out there but disappointed in myself."
Hoyer said he didn't know if he'd get the chance to be the fourth different starting quarterback for the Cardinals this season. Lindley, who finished 17-of-30 for 141 yards, was unfazed by the change, calling it another segment of his "crash course lesson this season."
Cutler didn't have a good day either, but that isn't strange against the Cardinals' defense this season. Cutler completed just 12-of-26 passes for 146 yards. But he was able to throw an 11-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Marshall and set up a four-yard Matt Forte rushing touchdown with a 30-yarder to Marshall. The rest of the day, it was making sure there were no turnovers because the Cards' offense couldn't keep up.
"Defensively we have a lot of heart," Wilson said. "We've got a lot of guys that play for each other. We don't have anyone on this defense that gives up, ever. You can talk about the Seattle debacle all you want, but we didn't give up that game, they just had our number."
It should have been closer. The Cardinals started drives at the Chicago 32- and 36-yard line and generated just three points. The first ended with a fake field goal by kicker Jay Feely on fourth-and-10, just in an attempt to spark a dormant offense.
The run-pass option for Feely failed as the Bears jumped on it. Tight end Jim Dray was open, but Feely was moving left against his body, tackled well short of the first down, and the Cardinals were left frustrated – much like they have been the majority of the season.
"At that point in the game it was trying to get something going," Whisenhunt said.
Whisenhunt would not name a starter for the season finale in San Francisco, saying he wanted to "process" what happened against the Bears. Skelton, after being inactive, is an unlikely candidate and Hoyer seems logical, but nothing is set.
The Cardinals also will be facing a 49ers team that must win to capture the NFC West after the 49ers were blown out in Seattle Sunday night.
Whoever is quarterback will be facing a dangerous and talented San Francisco defense. And the Cards will have to work with what they have one more week.
"It's very tough," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "But as a team, we have to stick together and we have to continue growing on what we have here."