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Dan Bickley

Losing to Oakland is rough, but might be best thing for Cardinals

(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Rage is the new currency of Arizona sports fans. The Cardinals are once again a piñata and our civic punching bag. They’re not losing purpose and they’re still not good enough to beat the Raiders.

We’ll scream at them all week, blaming them for the pre-Thanksgiving indigestion.

We’ll thank them for this later.

“No disrespect to the Raiders, but we feel as though we were the better football team (out) there,” quarterback Josh Rosen said. “And that’s why this one is really frustrating.”

A 23-21 loss on Sunday was both derelict, disgusting and the best thing that could happen to this team. They need to bottom out. They need to face hard questions about their general manager and his latest coaching staff. The illusion of progress can be a dangerous thing moving forward.

The Cardinals seemed to salvage this game with a late touchdown and the long-awaited return of a dominant David Johnson. That was a sight to behold, along with another fourth-quarter comeback from the rookie quarterback.

Instead, they handed a victory to the worst team in the NFL, a franchise not all that interested in winning football games. The outcome condemns the recurring rash of mental errors, clock management butchery and a defense that allowed the Raiders to drive 63 yards for a game-winning field goal without a timeout in hand.

It obliterated the idea that progress was slowly taking root under the steady hand of Steve Wilks, who was once again asked about his job security following the team’s eighth loss in 10 games.

“I’m just worried about trying to win a football game,” Wilks said. “As quickly as I watch this tape (Monday), I’m getting ready for the Chargers. I’ve got so much other things to worry about, I’m not concerned with that right now.”

As for where the blame should rest after this loss?

“I think it’s 50-50 because we all have our hand in it,” Wilks said. “We have to do a much better job of coaching, (and) got to do a better job of executing when we’re out there on the field.”

Habitual losing turns coach-speak into annoying gibberish, like a dog barking in the middle of the night. Nobody wants to hear it. Wilks has reached that point with most Cardinals fans, those who believe NFL teams have a responsibility to function competently 10 weeks into a season.

Alas, Wilks doesn’t know what else to say. He’s a rookie who changed defensive schemes without the linebackers he enjoyed in Carolina. He doesn’t know where to turn but doesn’t want to lose his cool or his team. Even though the latter might already be happening.

A snapshot: Wilks chided tight end Jermaine Greshman for his unnecessary roughness penalty on Arizona’s final possession, preaching the importance of turning the other cheek while playing a team full of agitators and instigators.

“All the guys need to be smarter than that,” Wilks said. “Those guys were doing it all game (for Oakland), and (I) kept talking to the guys right here about being smart. Just walk away.”

Yet Rosen practically praised Gresham for coming to Larry Fitzgerald’s defense, who was trapped on the ground by a Raiders’ defender who had no interest in getting up anytime soon.

“If you’re just going to lie on him and be disrespectful, that’s just not going to fly, especially with Jermaine on your team,” Rosen said. “Push me, shove me, whatever. But that’s Mr. Fitzgerald. Don’t do that.”

The play should’ve been moot, as Johnson cracked off a 57-yard touchdown run on the ensuing play, a stunning development on 3rd-and-23. Except his impact statement was negated by a holding penalty on Ricky Seals-Jones, a tight end who shouldn’t be in the game when blocking ability is crucial.

Like Rosen, Johnson was spitting mad after the game. He was infamously benched for a mental error late against the Bears, punished and not on the field for a key play in the game. Sound familiar?

The normally-ebullient Johnson bit his lip in his post-game media scrum, about as angry as he’s ever been since joining the Cardinals.

“Yeah, this one is going to sting,” Johnson said. “This one is definitely going to sting. The Raiders? Everyone knows they’re trading guys away, they’re doing everything to try and rebuild. And this was a tough one.

“It just because this one stings. We were very excited about playing these guys and we had a lot of confidence. And this one just hurts. I mean, it’s not just the Raiders. It’s just the way the season is going. A lot of guys are saying it’s getting tired not finishing. It’s getting old.”

We all know the feeling. We also know our major professional franchises owe us more than blind faith in the future.

We also need this, no matter how badly it hurts.

After the loss, the Cardinals moved ahead of the Raiders in current draft order, currently holding the No. 2 pick in the 2019 draft. Four of their next six games are on the road, and the upcoming list of opposing quarterbacks features Philip Rivers, Aaron Rodgers, Matthew Stafford, Matt Ryan, Jared Goff and Russell Wilson.

They won’t be favored to win another game this season. And if the 49ers scratch out one more victory this season, the Cardinals could own the top pick in next year’s draft. With Rosen already established as our franchise quarterback, that kind of gift could change our fortunes overnight.

This loss also rekindles the heat under Wilks and the current coaching staff, forcing Michael Bidwill to seriously consider another change in leadership.

“The two-minute drive at the end of the game … the teams that win get off the field,” defensive lineman Corey Peters said. “The teams that don’t, don’t. That’s the NFL.”

Indeed. Winners declare themselves in the NFL. Losers expose themselves in games against teams they should beat. And after losing to the Raiders, there’s no victory left on the schedule that can make any of this feel better moving forward.

“We’ll right the ship,” Rosen said while finishing up his press conference. “I promise.”

Great to hear. As long as it doesn’t happen before 2019.

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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