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Dan Bickley

Josh Rosen brings intrigue and new optimism to struggling Cardinals

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Josh Rosen (3) gives out signals as he enters an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears during the second half Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Rick Scuteri)

Our newest professional football team is the Arizona Hotshots. The Arizona Hotseats was already taken by our NFL franchise.

For the first time in a while, the Cardinals are in a very uncomfortable position. Their core competency is being questioned. They are the worst team in the NFL. Each loss is worse than the last, for different reasons.

The breach in leadership in Sunday’s loss to the Bears was a tipping point, illuminated after David Johnson accepted all blame for not being on the field during the biggest play of the season. The gory details:

He was getting coached up for a mental error on the previous play, where he didn’t even see the guy he was supposed to block. Because he was lined up on the wrong side of the quarterback.

Apparently, Josh Rosen didn’t notice, either, and who would blame him? He was thrown into his first NFL game with 4:31 left in the fourth quarter, with his team trailing for the first time all afternoon, with zero margin for error.

Bradford might’ve noticed and rearranged the furniture.

Except Bradford was prematurely pulled from Sunday’s game for a fumble on a play he made with his feet and his heart. We never expected that. He lay prone on the ground, in turnover anguish, because he cared that much. He wasn’t pulled after an interception or a stagnant series. He was pulled after his best pass in over two quarters, a huge third-down conversion to Christian Kirk.

At the time, there were over 11 minutes left in the game. Wilks couldn’t have possibly known that the Bears would churn out a lengthy scoring drive, aided by a Tre Boston penalty, throwing Rosen into a crucible that would fry most NFL rookies.

But an experienced and wise head coach would never keep David Johnson off the field on a defining moment. And sometime during the Bears’ game-winning drive – maybe after Boston’s penalty – he would’ve looked at the clock, telling Rosen to take off the helmet and sit back down.

After all, mental errors from Johnson are nothing new. They are nothing compared to what he gives this football team when fully empowered and not penalized. And his candor on the matter is striking, revealing a coaching staff that had a two-minute warning to figure out their endgame strategy.

They chose to admonish and bench their best offensive player, penalizing an entire team in the process.

The moment is looking too big for Steve Wilks. The popular perception might be unfair, but that’s the way it works in the NFL, especially for a winless rookie head coach who switched schemes on defense, changing the existing strength of the team; signed off an offense that hasn’t been kind to its three most important people — Johnson, Sam Bradford and Larry Fitzgerald; and allowed the team’s best player to watch the biggest play of the season.

Wilks could also own his first game ball if he hadn’t asked Josh Rosen to throw a fourth-down pass on the first drive of his NFL career. But you can’t separate an egregious play call from a coaching staff that allowed it to happen … with the benefit of a two-minute warning.

The Cardinals have thrown in their final chip. Rosen will attract an audience and new optimism. His oversized brain is surely stimulated from that crazy debut, when a pick six was reversed by penalty, when the pocket didn’t exist, when the thrill of leading an NFL team filled his soul.

He comes in at a strange time. Wilks made sure of that with his benching of Bradford, forcing the team to pay him more than $300,000 for every active roster appearance in the final 13 weeks. Or they can deactivate him so they don’t have to pay him. Not a great situation.

But rookie quarterbacks can change everything: the conversation, the season, even the future. Maybe even spare a rookie head coach tumbling out of the gate.

Reach Bickley at dbickley@bonneville.com. Listen to Bickley & Marotta weekdays from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. on 98.7 FM Arizona’s Sports Station.

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Dan Bickley bio
Dan Bickley is the most influential sports media member in Arizona sports history, having spent over 20 years as the award-winning lead sports columnist for The Arizona Republic and AZCentral.com and almost two decades as a Valley sports radio talk show host. In spring 2018, Bickley made the decision to leave the newspaper to join the Arizona Sports team as host of the entertaining and informative midday show Bickley and Marotta, as well as bring his opinionated and provocative column exclusively to ArizonaSports.com.
Bickley’s journalism career began in his hometown of Chicago, where he was part of a star-studded staff at the Chicago Sun-Times. He chronicled Michael Jordan’s six NBA championships; covered the Olympics in eight different countries and attended 14 Super Bowls; spent three weeks in an Indianapolis courthouse writing about Mike Tyson’s rape trial; and once left his laptop in an Edmonton bar after the Blackhawks reached the Stanley Cup Finals.
He has won multiple awards, written two books, formed a rock band, fathered three children, and once turned down an offer to work at the New York Times.  His passions include sports, music, the alphabet, good beer and great radio. After joining Arizona Sports 98.7 FM, he couldn’t be happier