DETROIT — Dennis Green has run out of quarterbacks.
Josh McCown didn’t do it for Green. Neither did Shaun King. So the Arizona Cardinals’ coach threw rookie John Navarre out Sunday against the Lions at Ford Field, all the while insisting the playoffs were attainable for his fading team.
Regrets aren’t part of Green’s makeup. So after Navarre struggled through his four-interception performance that played the starring role in the 26-12 loss, he wasn’t about to backtrack on his quarterback shuffling.
“It was time,” Green said evenly, “to see if John could do it.”
The Cards, which had won McCown’s last two starts, have now lost three straight since Green was willing to toy with whatever chemistry the Cardinals might have had.
Arizona (4-8) can only mathematically cling to postseason hopes, and only because they play in the mediocre NFC.
Green said he thought he would start Navarre again in the Cards’ next game, home against the woeful 49ers. That really was no surprise, since he gave King two starts.
But the Cardinals may only be playing for the future now. And for the first time, players are showing the frustration of what might be a missed opportunity.
“We just can’t keep giving games away,” receiver Anquan Boldin said.
The Lions (5-7), one of those teams the Cardinals were fighting in the standings, had lost five straight. The crowd of 62,262 was ready to boo them — especially the Lions’ struggling offense — with any little mistake.
But rookie running back Kevin Jones shredded the Arizona defense for a career-best 196 yards and the Cardinals missed too many tackles.
Navarre may have finished 18-of-40 for 168 yards, throwing for only 57 yards in the second half when the Cards were shut out, but Green made sure to emphasize the blame should be spread everywhere.
“It wasn’t a one-man loss,” Green said. “It never is, just like it is never a one-man win.”
The move to Navarre looked like gold early on. As he promised, Navarre never looked rattled. He threw a touchdown pass to tight end Freddie Jones in the second quarter that pulled Arizona within 14-12 (the Cardinals missed a two-point conversion).
The defense also averted disaster after allowing a 74-yard Kevin Jones run to the Arizona 17, because cornerback David Macklin made an interception on the next play.
Navarre guided the Cardinals to field goal range with 13 seconds left in the first half. But in an attempt to throw the ball out of bounds on third down, he floated it short of the sideline and it was picked off by Detroit cornerback Dré Bly.
It turned out to be the beginning of the end. “In this league I have learned that they are good enough players they won’t miss it if you slip up,” Navarre said.
The Lions, behind Jones’ runs, kicked only field goals in the second half, but it didn’t matter. Navarre threw for only 14 yards in the third quarter and rookie running back Larry Croom was bottled up, rushing for 49 yards on 18 carries.
Green said he had turned to Navarre because his team wasn’t passing for at least 225 yards a game. Navarre fell far short of that. The Cardinals have scored just two touchdowns in the three games since McCown was benched.
“We had some expectations (offensively) and when you don’t meet them, it’s hard not to be frustrated,” tackle Leonard Davis said.
Green took his time before emerging from the locker room after the game, long enough that most of the players had already cleared out and headed to the bus by the time the media made it into the locker room.
But now, there isn’t much to say anyway. The definition of the 2004 Cardinals seems to have been shaped already. Only the details are left. Green was asked about reaching .500, and if that might be enough to warrant a playoff spot.
“We’re not worried about winning four games right now,” Green said. “We’re worried about winning one game.”