Cardinals Coach Ken Whisenhunt seems a little confused about how to spin his team’s lack of effort in the season finale.
When Mike McCarthy said that he was going to play to win in the last game of the season, he was taking the chance that his team might blow out the Cardinals and make them angry for their playoff rematch. The Packers did, in fact, blow out the Cardinals, but whether they gave the Cardinals any kind of emotional edge by doing so is highly questionable.
You may remember that Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt seemed just a little testy after the Packers’ preseason win at Arizona, in which his starters were outscored 38-10 in the first half. He pointed out afterwards that his team hadn’t game-planned. It was probably true that the Packers had game-planned more than his team had, but usually coaches don’t bother to say such things, as it makes them look like sore losers.
Fast forward to the season finale, another essentially meaningless game, and after his team got embarrassed again by a Packer team that had taken the game more seriously than his own team had, Whisenhunt said, “They had their plan. I guess they felt good about what they were doing.” As Dan Bickley suggested in his article in the Arizona Republic on Tuesday, the use of the phrase “I guess” seems a bit telling. Whisenhunt came across as irritated by the Packers’ gung-ho game plan.
Later, when he was defending his decision to allow Larry Fitzgerald to stay in the game in the second half to pad his statistics, Whisenhunt said, “It’s something you would feel sick about had he gotten injured at the end, but I have no doubt in my mind that’s what Green Bay was trying to do with Aaron Rodgers as far as passing statistics, trying to get those things. That’s part of it.” Maybe Whisenhunt knows something we don’t know, but if McCarthy had kept Rodgers in the game solely to pad his stats, why did he sit Rodgers down when he was 25 yards away from the franchise single-season passing yardage record? It doesn’t seem out of the question that McCarthy simply treated this game like any other regular season blowout, waiting until midway through the third quarter before pulling most of his starters.
A couple of Packer players were unimpressed with Whisenhunt’s comments after the game. When interviewed by Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press Gazette, Ryan Pickett had this to say: “You play to win the game. We don’t go out there for fun. We’re going out there to win. We’re sick and tired of hearing, ‘Oh, we didn’t play our starters and stuff.’ So they’re going to get a chance to play their starters this week, and we’ll see what happens.” Cullen Jenkins was similarly unimpressed: “We always play to win,” he said, referring to the alternate strategy employed by the Cardinals. “So I don’t know what that would be like.”
So it appears that Whisenhunt’s approach to the final game, and his comments afterwards, may have motivated the Packers at least as much as they motivated his own team. On Wednesday, Whisenhunt began walking his comments backward: “The only thing I was chafing at is the approach of my football team and how we handled it. I was disappointed with some of the things we did in the game and how we played. It was obvious to me Green Bay was more physical than us, and that was very disappointing to me…. I could see where (McCarthy) would think I was irritated, and I was. But it certainly wasn’t at Coach McCarthy or the Packers. It was more about how we performed.”
If that’s how Whisenhunt felt, why didn’t he say it the first time? It’s amusing that he began this whole thing by making excuses for his players, and his position has now evolved to the point where he is publicly chastising them. Maybe this is all part of some grand motivational strategy that will become apparent next Sunday. More likely, Whisenhunt just didn’t know where his words were leading him. Playing to lose is always problematic from a public relations standpoint.
Will any of this make a difference on Sunday? Maybe, maybe not. These two teams are evenly matched, and it should be a heck of a game. But it does not appear that the Cardinals have any more of a chip on their shoulders than the Packers do right now.