Cardinals wide receiver Michael Floyd looks back to try and haul in a pass against Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman last week.
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – There's nothing quite like a quarterback carousel to rile the masses, and the Cardinals were at the center of the hysteria this week.
Rookie Logan Thomas was the projected starter on Monday, until a poor practice two days later put Ryan Lindley back atop the depth chart. Then came the report Drew Stanton could be done for the season with an infection in his sprained knee, which coach Bruce Arians somewhat diffused by proclaiming Stanton "on schedule for next week."
The uncertainty under center is threatening to derail one of the franchise's best seasons ever, and it's understandably the hot topic
among fans as the regular season finale against the 49ers beckons.
For the players, it's a different story. They can't focus on the quarterback situation because there is still a task at hand. The Cardinals (11-4) will have 21 other starters in place on Sunday, and if they're to have a shot at overcoming the expected passing deficiency, it's going to take a collaborative effort.
"We have no time to think about who's our quarterback or make excuses for ourselves," cornerback Patrick Peterson said. "The game is still going to be played. Ain't no ifs, ands, buts about it."
Just a week ago, the Cardinals were heading into a Sunday Night Football matchup with the Seahawks for the No. 1 seed in the NFC. They lost badly, and now, for the first time all season, are no longer in control of finishing atop the NFC.
It could still happen, if the Cardinals win while the Seahawks and Packers lose, but that's a longshot. There are scenarios which would set the Cards up against any number of opponents for their first playoff game, but the most likely version has them hitting the road for a wild card game against the NFC South champion – either the Falcons or Panthers – next weekend.
Every game of consequence to the Cardinals will be played simultaneously, so they won't know their fate until Sunday night. Much like the quarterback dilemma, it's an extra sideshow the players hope to ignore.
"Just settle down," safety Tyrann Mathieu said. "Don't worry about if we're going to be the fifth seed, the sixth seed or the first seed.
Just go out and try to win this game."
Coach Bruce Arians said on Friday there is a decrease in swagger when a team loses, and it was a decidedly more low-key locker room this week. The 49ers are already out of playoff contention and could be playing their last game under coach Jim Harbaugh, so there is a thought they could be mailing this one in, but the Cardinals also must rebound after all the hype surrounding last week's game.
They still have a shot at a 12th regular season win, which would not only set a franchise record but improve the team's psyche heading into the playoffs. While adversity has hit of late, wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald sees the bigger picture.
"I'd have taken it, without a question," said Fitzgerald, when asked about the idea of winning 12 games despite using four different quarterbacks. "You take that every day, because you know you're going to the playoffs."
The Cardinals clinched a postseason berth before anyone else in the NFC, but the quarterback issues have many questioning their staying power. Lindley had a poor outing against the Seahawks, and since there is the legitimate possibility he will be the Cardinals' quarterback for the playoffs, he must make strides against a banged-up 49ers defense.
The defensive performance against Seattle was puzzling, as the Cardinals gave up 35 points and 596 total yards to a Seattle offense which is no juggernaut.
If those problems arise again, the level of concern will only heighten, but right tackle Bobby Massie doesn't think that will be the case. While there are many people around the league prepared to write the Cardinals' eulogy, he sees a group which shook off last week's loss and is ready to finish the season strong, led by whichever quarterback happens to be under center.
"I can't speak for everybody, but from what I see, I think we're good," Massie said. "Everybody's content with their role. It's not like offense versus defense or anything like that. We're in a position where we control what happens from here on out. Either we're going home early, or we're going to be playing for next five, six weeks. We've got the keys to the car. It all depends on what we do with it."