SAN DIEGO - The last game ended much like many of the rest, after too many mistakes and blown chances to score and coach Dennis Green slowly walking off the field, by himself, a scowl on his face.
The Cardinals completed their disappointing season at Qualcomm Stadium with a 27-20 loss to the Chargers, a win for San Diego that clinched it the NFL’s best record and a loss that probably guaranteed big changes for Arizona.
“I love playing with these guys and you never know what is going to happen,” dejected safety Adrian Wilson said. “That’s the sad part about it.”
After the Cardinals (5-11) posted a third losing season in Green’s three years, the Bidwill family would stun the NFL world if they didn’t fire their coach.
Neither owner Bill Bidwill nor son Michael were around after the game, having left on Michael’s plane. And vice president of football operations Rod Graves — who apparently will survive any upheaval — did not want to get into any extended conversation on Green’s status.
“We will take some time and reflect on the season and see what we have to do to improve,” Graves said. “That’s probably all I want to say right now.”
Green declined to take part in any discussion about his job or his mindset after another poor season.
“I’m not going to discuss my feelings right now,” Green said. “Anything you want to talk about the game I’ll do it, but I am a 57-year-old man. I’ll keep my feelings to myself.”
That’s also what Green’s players were doing afterward.
“That is all speculation,” quarterback Kurt Warner said, “and I don’t want to speculate.”
If Green did indeed coach his last game, it wasn’t the spectacular sendoff the Cards gave Dave Mc-Ginnis in 2003 when they knocked Minnesota out of the playoffs.
Arizona could have dealt a blow this time around to the Chargers (14-2), who needed to win to make sure they wouldn’t have to travel unless they reach the Super Bowl.
Statistically, the Cards held their own. Warner, starting in place of an injured Matt Leinart, was impressive, throwing for 356 yards and a touchdown on 22-of-32 passing. Edgerrin James ended up with the same day as probable NFL MVP LaDainian Tomlinson (16 rushes for 66 yards).
But Warner blew a chance to score at least three points at the end of the first half when he threw a pass to Anquan Boldin at the San Diego 2-yard line as time expired. And fill-in punt returner Bryant Johnson dropped a fair catch inside his own 10, allowing the Chargers to recover in the end zone for a cheap touchdown.
Meanwhile, the Cards’ defense allowed quarterback Philip Rivers — who couldn’t move much or push off an injured foot after a Chike Okeafor sack in the first quarter — to throw for 231 yards on 19-for-24 passing and a couple of touchdowns.
The Cardinals were left with that same sickly feeling that permeated much of their season.
Warner said Arizona finished the season with something to build upon, and that the Cards “have as much talent as we need to be successful.”
But they weren’t, despite skyhigh expectations. Green is 16-32 in three seasons. What’s worse, his team was 1-8 this year and out of the playoff picture by midseason.
A team only needed to be 8-8 this season to have a chance at the postseason, and Green’s players verbalized that regret over and over in the locker room Sunday.
They also seemed to understand that regardless of what happens to Green, other things must change.
Defensive tackle Darnell Dockett said he talked to fellow defensive tackle Kendrick Clancy about working together in the summer, and told cornerbacks Antrel Rolle and Eric Green in particular they needed to stay in Arizona and not head home in the offseason in order to better the team.
“We need guys that are going to dedicate two days out of the week in the offseason, not mandatory stuff, and come to the facility and get some work in,” Dockett said. “That’s the only way we are going to get to the next level. That’s the only way.
“It don’t matter who we bring in as a coach, it don’t matter if Denny is the coach. If we (as players) don’t hold ourselves accountable to get things done — myself included — we’re not going to win games.”
Dockett said there were “a few guys on defense and a few guys on offense” that share his feelings.
Nevertheless, the players will take some time off for now. And wait to see exactly who their coach will be.
“Hopefully, there aren’t any changes,” Boldin said, “but if there are, you’ve just got to adapt.”
TURNING POINT: Bryant Johnson’s punt muff of a fair catch at his own 6-yard line was recovered in the end zone for a Chargers touchdown and an insurmountable 24-7 lead.
STAT OF THE DAY: Pro Bowl receiver Anquan Boldin’s 112-yard day (on four receptions) was his first 100-yard performance in five games, since he had 140 yards in Minnesota on Nov. 26.
UNSUNG HERO: Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, after suffering a foot injury with his team down 7-3, completed 9-of-10 passes for 135 yards and two touchdowns the rest of the half to give San Diego control.