The doctors also expressed concern that their may be bulging discs, but would not know for at least a couple weeks, after the swelling subsided. This pretty much assures Cardinals fans a healthy look at QB Matt Leinart, who has been named the starter for this weeks' contest with the Denver Broncos. After beginning the season singing the company line that Leinart would be moved along slowly, it appears that the coaching staff is now content to hand him the reigns for the remainder of the season. For his part, the young quarterback appears hungry and ready, especially after his success in limited action against the Seahawks last weekend.
Matt Leinart may have come in believing he was ready for this match-up versus the Broncos, but he left the first series knowing he hadn't been. RB Marcel Shipp looked confused on the first passing play, missing an obvious blitz by LB Al Wilson that put Leinart on the ground for the first of many times on the day and the league-leading 51st sack given up on the season. Shipp would continue to look silly against this Denver 3-4 formation, so much so that Head Coach Dennis Green began to rotate in RB J.J. Arrington even on first and second downs as early as the second quarter. Shipp would finish the day with 11 yards on 10 carries with two lost fumbles. WR Anquan Boldin also struggled against the defense and was benched after it appeared that he had tweaked his injured ankle.
The Cardinals defense played extremely well throughout the first half, despite being on the field for 23 minutes. With the offense providing no rest for them, the defensive unit began taking things into their own hands. After giving up touchdowns on the first two Denver possessions, the Redbirds stiffened, sacking QB Jake Plummer on back-to-back plays. Then a botched handoff to RB Mike Bell allowed LB James Darling to scoop the ball up and return it 33 yards to the Broncos' 36.
After Leinart immediately handed the ball back to Denver by throwing a pick on first down, the Cardinal defense again was forced to come up with a big play to keep from going down by an insurmountable deficit. Denver was able to drive as far as the Arizona 28, but that was where CB David Macklin and SS Adrian Wilson teamed up to separate WR Javon Walker from a perfect Plummer pass and then pick it off. It was Wilson's 3 INT of the season.
Although the defense showed its mettle by limiting the Denver offense to only a 14-0 halftime lead, their extended time on the field started becoming evident on the first series of the second act. Plummer was forced to check down to his third target on second-and-short from his own 17 as he dumped to ball off to RB Tatum Bell, who then just took advantage of the sluggish pursuit to the tune of 67 yards. Once inside the redzone, it was the Bell Boys show as Head Coach Mike Shanahan just had his front pound away at the tired Redbird D. The drive resulted in a 2-yard dive by Mike Bell for a TD and a 21-0 lead that would hold until the middle of the 4th quarter.
Leinart finally did show up in the final stanza, completing 8 of 11 passes in the quarter for 2 TD, both of which went to WR Larry Fitzgerald. The first occurred on a fluky play in which CB Champ Bailey should have had his second INT of the day. Instead, he bobbled the ball, allowing Fitzgerald to come over and snatch the pass away, then running through several arm tackles to complete the 54-yard passing TD. The second was a bit more conventional, coming with only 1:03 left in the game, as Leinart found Fitzgerald in the left corner of the endzone just behind Bailey, capping an 8-play 66-yard drive. Unfortunately, the ensuing onside kick failed, ensuring a sixth straight Denver victory.
Cardinals lose 21-14.
Things have gone from bad to worse, in a hurry. Leinart and Arrington have shown promise, but with the team's playoff hopes fading, the Cardinals are more in need of production than promise. This is definitely the perfect spot for a 49ers contest as the Redbirds no longer control their own destiny and will need to win out while hoping that the Rams drop their two remaining contests. At this point, it may be time for fans to stop buying playoff tickets so as to avoid waiting in line for their refunds in two weeks.