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Test Driving Another QB

Notebook: Tight end injuries play havoc with game plan in 49ers loss


Quarterback Rich Bartel tries to escape pressure during Sunday's 38-7 loss to the 49ers.

SAN FRANCISCO – From the middle of preseason, when Derek Anderson surpassed Matt Leinart on the depth chart, the Cardinals' quarterback situation was constantly in flux.

Why would Sunday's season finale be any different?

"I don't think one looked up in the huddle and thought, 'Oh God, we had a quarterback change,' " running back Tim Hightower said after Richard Bartel replaced John Skelton in the 38-7 loss to the 49ers. "We've had to adjust a lot this year, whether it's coming from behind, trying to overcome something, trying to find a balance … I don't think it threw anyone off."

Coach Ken Whisenhunt had said one of the reasons Anderson was going to be the third quarterback Sunday was because he might want to take a look at the play of Bartel. So it wasn't a surprise – in a blowout game – Whisenhunt went to Bartel, who had previously never appeared in a regular-season game.

"We haven't had any real experience with him other than practice, so it was an opportunity to get him in a game and see what he could do," Whisenhunt said.

Bartel didn't come in until 2:39 was left in the third quarter, but he still attempted 28 passes, completing 16 for 150 yards and throwing an interception that was returned for a touchdown.

"It was fun," Bartel said. "You put some much in and everything culminates to that. (But) you feel you will be held accountable for how you played."

Skelton, who was 14-for-25 for 92 yards, threw a touchdown but also had a pass tipped and intercepted, probably wouldn't have come out had the game gotten lopsided.

"It's hard to go from starter to watch someone else play, but I can't blame the coaches," Skelton said. "Offensively we didn't get much going."


All week, the Cardinals had three tight ends working in practice, although Ben Patrick was limited with a sore hamstring.

Then Sunday, Patrick was ruled out because of the injury, and was entered as an official inactive. A short time later, as the Cardinals came out for warm-ups, Stephen Spach felt his right calf pop, ending his day.

That left rookie Jim Dray as the only healthy tight end for a gameplan that called for multi-tight end sets early and often – and left the Cards scrambling.

"That hurt," Whisenhunt said. "When Stephen went down, it took a lot of our package out."

The Cardinals started the game with a two-tight end formation with guard Rex Hadnot playing the second tight end role. Long snapper Mike Leach, who came into the league as a tight end and still plays the role on the scout team in practice, was also in there.

"That threw us off a little, but that is something we should have been able to overcome," Skelton said.

"It's difficult," Hadnot said, who chuckled at the irony of his first Arizona start being at a foreign position. "At the same time, you always got to be prepared for whatever. Guys and coaches did a good job when I had to go in. You don't expect anything like that to happen. You just do what you can to help the team."

That was also Leach's thought.

"Once you get out there, some adrenaline at the beginning, but then it's playing football again," Leach said. "I had some good plays, had some bad plays. I just hope I represented the tight ends well."


Larry Fitzgerald had only three passes thrown his way Christmas night. That was rectified Sunday.

The Cards' two quarterbacks targeted Fitzgerald 17 times against the 49ers, and Fitzgerald ended up with a season-high 11 receptions for 125 yards and his first touchdown since Nov. 21. For the season, Fitzgerald ended up with 90 receptions and 1,136 yards – the latter being more than he totaled last season catching passes from Kurt Warner.

"It was below standard," Fitzgerald said. "I would love to be playing in the postseason. That's why we play. It doesn't matter if I had 1,600 yards or 1,100 yards, it wasn't good enough to get us to the postseason. That's what they pay me to do, they pay me to produce. That's my job."


With Sunday's results the Cardinals now know they will host Carolina and travel to Minnesota to round out their 2011 schedule.

The other home games will be Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Cleveland, Pittsburgh, Dallas and the New York Giants. The other road games will be Seattle, San Francisco, St. Louis, Baltimore, Cincinnati, Philadelphia and Washington.

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