Patriots 30, Cardinals 3

Preview | Box Score | Recap

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP)—In the first minute of his NFL career, Matt Leinart looked like a Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback—running a hurry-up offense that impressed even Tom Brady.

For the rest of the night, there was little for Leinart and the Cardinals to be proud about.

“To go against this team on this field and get something in my first drive: that was pretty cool,” Leinart said after his debut, which featured a quick 54-yard drive that netted Arizona its only points in a 30-3 loss to the New England Patriots on Saturday.

But he spent the rest of the night resembling what he is—a rookie with almost no real practice experience.

Five days after reporting to the Cardinals’ training camp, the 2004 Heisman winner entered Arizona’s exhibition game with 1:09 left in the first half. He promptly drove the Cardinals down the field to set up Neil Rackers’ 48-yard field goal, scrambling for 29 yards on two runs and completing 3 of 6 passes for 20 yards on the drive.

That was against a New England defense made up mostly of regulars.

The Patriots’ starters should have stayed in the game. In the third quarter, he was just 1-for-5—a 25-yard completion to tight end Eric Edwards—and was sacked twice by New England backups. He finished 4-of-11 for 49 yards.

It was a miserable night all around for Arizona, which last week opened its new stadium with a 21-13 win over Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh. In fact, Leinart’s drive at the end of the half was the only positive.

“I don’t think anyone could have expected any more,” said Kurt Warner, Arizona’s starter, who two years ago helped break in Eli Manning with the New York Giants. “I thought he did a great job in the 2-minute drill. He handled the situation well.”

For New England, it was a workmanlike effort. Brady played most of the first half and completed 15 of 20 passes for 149 yards as the Patriots marched up and down the field but usually stalled before reaching the end zone.

Rookie Stephen Gostkowski, competing with Martin Gramatica to become the replacement for Adam Vinatieri, kicked three field goals for the Patriots (1-1). Matt Cassel, Leinart’s backup at Southern Cal, threw two TD passes—a 9-yarder to Heath Evans in the third quarter and a 5-yarder to Rich Musinski in the fourth quarter—as both sides inserted subs liberally.

That made Leinart, who on Monday signed a six-year deal that could be worth $51 million, the major part of the show. He was the NFL’s last draft choice to sign.

At first, he made it look as though his drop to 10th overall in the draft was a mistake—at one point he was considered the top rookie coming out or at least one of the top three.

Because the Patriots had the ball on three long first-half scoring drives, Leinart didn’t enter until 1:09 was left in the half.

His first NFL play was a pass in the right flat to wide-open running back J.J. Arrington that picked up 11 yards. His longest play was a 16-yard scramble up the middle that might have gained more had he not slid down at his 45. His second longest was a 13-yard run to the New England 37.

“I’m not a runner, but they were laying back and the middle was open,” he said.

But in the second half, Leinart looked like a raw rookie and the Cardinals reverted to their old selves—a franchise that has made the playoffs only once in 19 seasons in the desert. On one sack, Leinart fumbled but teammate Marcel Shipp recovered. As the game went on, he looked more and more unsure.

Leinart has a fan in Brady.

“I thought he did a great job,” the two-time Super Bowl MVP said of the rookie. “He’s a big strong kid. What impressed me was that he had such excellent scrambling ability. I remember when I was a rookie. There’s so much to learn and he’s coming in with just four days practice, which makes it doubly tough.’

Cassel, by contrast, got better as the Cardinals put in more subs. When Patriots coach Bill Belichick was asked about Leinart, he replied: “I liked the way OUR quarterback from USC played.”

A seventh-round draft pick a year ago, Cassel finished 13-of-19 for 185 yards and those two touchdowns, far better than Leinart, who beat him out for the starting job at Southern Cal after Carson Palmer was the No. 1 pick by Cincinnati in the 2001 draft.

“I was happy for him,” said Leinart. “We’re good friends and we talked a couple of times last week. He showed he can be an NFL player.”

For that 1:09, so did Leinart.

Related Articles