Losing can numb a man. He can become desensitized to the pain, his anger and frustration slowly giving way to an almost casual acceptance of the world around him.
For years now, the Cardinals’ locker room has led the league in indifference. Shoulders sag, heads droop, and it becomes easier and easier to accept another 5-11 season. Thankfully, that will never happen to Anquan Boldin.
The Cardinals lost Sunday, 24-17, to the Jacksonville Jaguars. There was nothing new in the defeat, nothing worth writing about. But there was Boldin. Catching 10 passes for 115 yards. Breaking tackles. Cursing opponents.
Refusing to go quietly into the chilly fall night.
It was vintage Q, and the Cardinals might not be 3-8 today if more of his teammates followed his lead.
On Sunday, however, Boldin’s passion betrayed him.
He was whistled for two personal foul penalties, one that pushed the Cardinals back from the Jaguars’ 5-yard line in the third quarter and resulted in a Neil Rackers field goal instead of a touchdown.
The second came late in the fourth quarter after Arizona failed to convert a fourth-and-1 at its own 40. Boldin thought he was held on the play, and when the flag didn’t come, he ripped his helmet off in frustration.
The unsportsmanlike conduct call gave Jacksonville the ball at the Cardinals’ 25, and tailback Greg Jones scored the gameclinching touchdown on the very next play.
"Anquan ain’t going to get punked by nobody," defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said.
That’s all well and good, but there are times Boldin needs to curb his enthusiasm.
When your team is close to the end zone you don’t grab an opponent by the jersey after the play is over and fling him to the ground.
"I was just blocking, which I do on every play," Boldin said.
And you certainly don’t yank your helmet off for all the world to see, even if you feel your right to catch a pass was interfered with.
"I’m going to play it smart and keep my mouth shut," Boldin said. "I don’t want to wind up getting a fine. I’m going to keep my whole check."
It’s hard to be too critical of Boldin. He’s not only the Cardinals’ best player — his 13-yard touchdown reception against St. Louis last week, in which he avoided eight Ram tacklers over the final 12 yards, was the stuff of legend —he’s also the kind of player who can change the culture of losing that’s poisoned the franchise.
Boldin signed a new, six-year, $23.5 million contract extension before the season, but he hasn’t let the money soften the street fighter that’s inside of him.
He hates losing, he’ll do whatever he can to avoid losing, and any teammate who doesn’t feel the same way will hear it from No. 81.
The Cardinals haven’t had enough of those leaders in the past, and the future won’t change without more of them.
"That kind of desire and attitude is what we want from all our players," said Rod Graves, Arizona’s vice president of football operations. "He’s the kind of guy who really demands a high level of performance from everyone around him. He’s a winner, and we love him for that."
Boldin’s penalties Sunday were inexcusable, and his explanations rang hollow. But what would you rather have: A guy who sometimes cares too much or a guy who doesn’t care enough?
"I think Anquan Boldin is as great a player as you are going to see in this league," Jacksonville coach Jack Del Rio said. "Anytime you have a guy like that on your team, you know there is going to be some spirited action on the field."
As he dressed Sunday in another quiet locker room, Boldin was asked whether he was slightly frustrated. "Slightly?" he said, his voice rising. "Try fully frustrated." We understand, Q. And we don’t want you to lose the attitude. But you can’t lose your cool, either.