SEATTLE -- When the CenturyLink Field scoreboard finally topped out at 58-0 in the Seattle Seahawks' favor Sunday, a reporter with no NFL playing experience asked Arizona Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt which quarterback would start for him next week.
Whisenhunt's reply said much about where the Cardinals stand following the most humiliating day in franchise history, one that provided an emphatic argument for wholesale organizational changes in the offseason, if not sooner.
"Do you play?" the coach asked.
That was the artistic highlight for Whisenhunt on a day when his one-time 4-0 team fell to 4-9, ensuring Arizona its second losing record in three years.
The Seahawks are a good team. They're 8-5 and probably headed for the playoffs as a wild-card entry. They'll give San Francisco (9-3-1) a run for the NFC West title if the 49ers stumble at New England. But there is no way one NFL team should defeat another NFL team -- and a division rival, at that -- by 58 points.
Cannot happen. Cannot be tolerated.
Those looking for evidence the Cardinals quit can consult the final score and this nugget from ESPN Stats & Information: Seattle gained 214 of its 284 yards rushing before contact from defenders. Marshawn Lynch went untouched on 33- and 20-yard scoring runs.
"Let me just start off by saying I apologize to our fans and everybody associated with our organization," Whisenhunt said in unsolicited remarks to open his postgame news conference. "That was embarrassing today. We owe it to them -- to our fans, to our supporters -- to give them a better product."
There's a difference between "Any Given Sunday" and what happened on this one, particularly given the context.
Eleven teams in the past 65 years have suffered shutouts by at least 50 points. Six of the losing head coaches returned with their teams the next season: Jeff Fisher, Chuck Noll, George Halas, Lou Saban, Bill McPeak and Cecil Isbell. Marion Campbell, Phil Bengston, Weeb Ewbank, Eddie Erdelatz and Ray McLean did not.
Every situation was different. Then as now, context was key.
Arizona's week began with defensive end Darnell Dockett challenging Whisenhunt's authority by refusing to go along with plans to let the New York Jets score during the final minutes of a game Arizona trailed by one point.
The Cardinals hoped to get the ball back to their offense.
Dockett, figuring the offense wouldn't score anyway, thought the move would set bad precedent for a proud defense. According to Dockett, he offered to come out of the game, but the coaching staff refused to let him.
Arizona levied a six-figure fine against the three-time Pro Bowl choice and career-long Cardinal. Dockett, 31, appealed to the NFL Players Association.
Arizona then put forth its least competitive performance in a history packed with noncompetitive performances. This was the Cardinals' most lopsided defeat and the Seahawks' most lopsided victory in either team's history. Seattle came within a point of tying for the largest shutout over the past 65 years.
"I have never been involved in anything where the ball falls your way every single time," Seahawks cornerback Richard Sherman said.
The Cardinals' offense surrendered six turnovers. Return man Patrick Peterson gave up two others. The defense allowed two 100-yard rushers, a 100-yard receiver and 493 yards overall. The score was 38-0 at halftime.
Sherman had a pick-six. Linebacker Malcolm Smith scored when Peterson muffed a punt. There were three Lynch touchdown runs. Arizona never made it past the Seattle 37-yard line.
Afterward, Dockett chuckled when asked about his relationship with Whisenhunt.
"Hey, man, I don't know," Dockett said. "I've got a commitment to my teammates, a commitment to my defensive coordinator that I will do the best I can, play to the best of my ability. At the end of the day, I'm a football player. I love what I do. Sometimes you get too passionate about what you do."
Whisenhunt said he hasn't spoken with team ownership recently. Back in 1985, the Cardinals infamously changed the locks on then-coach Jim Hanifan's office during halftime of the final regular-season game. Bill Bidwill was calling the shots for the Cardinals back then. His son, Michael Bidwill, takes the lead these days. He has been silent.
The Cardinals have sold enough tickets to avoid local television blackouts since opening their new stadium in 2006, the year before Whisenhunt arrived as head coach. Division titles in 2008 and 2009 gave the franchise momentum. But the status quo will be an impossible sell in the desert following a seven-game losing streak in 2010, a six-game skid in 2011, the current nine-game dive and what happened Sunday.
"Ass kicking," Cardinals quarterback John Skelton said. "That's the only thing you can say. For them to come out and dominate the way they did in every phase of the game, it's embarrassing."
Skelton suffered four interceptions and a lost fumble before Whisenhunt benched him for Ryan Lindley. The two combined for 133 yards passing on 39 attempts. They have been bad enough recently to make the Cardinals long for the injured Kevin Kolb even though Skelton was Whisenhunt's choice to start entering the season.
The Cardinals' ineptitude and its likely implications were the prevailing story Sunday. Those things also provided the contrast to illuminate how far the Seahawks have come since losing 20-16 at Arizona in Week 1.
Seattle has won four of its past five games and six of its past nine. This victory and the Seahawks' great escape at Chicago last week leave Seattle fifth in the NFC playoff seeding race. The Seahawks have a 4-1 record against the eight other teams seeded among the top nine. They arguably have the best quarterback in the NFC West (Russell Wilson) and the best running back (Lynch). Their defense, on its best day, is right up there with any other.
The division race might yet come through Seattle, where the Seahawks have yet to lose in six chances this season. San Francisco and St. Louis (6-6-1) still must play at CenturyLink. Seattle plays its lone road game, against Buffalo, indoors at Toronto.
The 49ers have been the best team in the division most of the season, but they haven't been able to run away. Among NFC West teams, Arizona still owns the longest winning streak this season, at four games. St. Louis' current three-game winning streak, its longest since 2006, stands second.
Seattle and San Francisco have yet to win more than two in a row, but there's still time. The NFC West fun is only beginning.
Unless you're the Cardinals.