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Coming off just their second victory of the season, the Cardinals (2-8) try for consecutive wins for the first time in more than two years when they visit the slumping Minnesota Vikings on Sunday.
Arizona snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 17-10 win over Detroit last week. The victory was the first in six starts for Leinart, who began the season as veteran Kurt Warner’s backup.
Leinart was 19-of-29 for 233 yards and one touchdown, and also ran for a 9-yard TD in the third quarter en route to the team’s first win since the season opener.
For the Heisman Trophy winner who won two national championships and went 37-2 as a starter at USC, the past few weeks have been difficult. Arizona, which has posted seven consecutive losing seasons, was 1-8 for the first time since 1978.
“It’s been hard,” Leinart said. “I’m tough on myself and I expect to play well every game. That’s how I am. I’ve always been like that.”
The quarterback missed the first two weeks of training camp because of a contract holdout and was not expected to start this season, but Warner struggled and coach Dennis Green was forced to look to the rookie sooner than expected.
Leinart has been inconsistent, throwing six touchdowns to seven interceptions, and his 53.6 completion percentage is fifth-lowest in the NFL.
Leinart, however, isn’t discouraged.
“I’ve talked to quite a few people,” he said. “They said ‘Keep your head up, you’re a leader.’ Everyone keeps reminding me of the great quarterbacks in the past that have struggled in their early years and then have gone on to win Super Bowls.”
Teammate Edgerrin James said the rookie’s progress has been impressive despite the team’s record, and Leinart threw for 233 yards in one of Arizona’s better offensive games last week. The Cardinals had 338 yards of offense—their third-highest total of the season—and their 17 points were the most in four games.
“The more Matt plays, the better he’s going to get,” said James, who rushed for a season-high 96 yards on 22 carries against Detroit. “He’s going to continue to get better and better. That’s what you like about him, he’s not content with what he did. He wants to keep improving.”
The Cardinals haven’t won consecutive games since defeating Miami and the New York Giants in November 2004.
The Vikings (4-6) are coming off a 24-20 loss to the Dolphins, their fourth straight defeat.
Minnesota easily has the NFL’s best rushing defense at 60.3 yards per game, and the Vikings are giving up just 18.2 points per contest—third-fewest in the NFC. The offense, however, has struggled, averaging 16.7 points. Only the Cardinals and Tampa Bay are scoring fewer points in the conference.
Coach Brad Childress, though, said there has been no dissent in the locker room.
“That’s why you’re a team,” Childress said. “You become two teams, three teams if people are pointing fingers. Are they frustrated? Sure they are. Are they disappointed? Absolutely. I’d be disappointed in them if they weren’t.”
On Sunday, Minnesota blew a 13-10 lead with 10 minutes left after two of its three turnovers were converted into Miami touchdowns.
Defensive end Darrion Scott said that although the defense is frustrated, the unit still bears some responsibility for the team’s problems.
“As a defensive player, you can’t say that you don’t get frustrated when things like that happen,” Scott said. “We can’t put it all on our offense. The way defenses are scoring more these days, I feel we can do more.”
The Vikings have played their worst football of the season during the easiest part of their schedule. Minnesota’s last three opponents are a combined 13-17.
“We lose four in a row with the schedule that we had, I never would have guessed it,” cornerback Antoine Winfield said.
This is the first meeting between Arizona and Minnesota since 2003, when the Cardinals won 18-17 after scoring two touchdowns in the final two minutes, including the final six points as time expired. That loss ended the Vikings’ four-game winning streak in the series.
The Cardinals haven’t won at in Minneapolis since 1977, when they were known as the St. Louis Cardinals.