“I haven’t taken one in a while,” he explained.
It was the long-awaited first NFL win for the Heisman Trophy quarterback.
The rookie from USC threw for 233 yards and a touchdown and ran 9 yards in his first NFL victory, helping the Cardinals snap an eight-game losing streak with a 17-10 victory over the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
“It’s kind of a big relief,” he said.
In his first victory in six NFL starts, Leinart completed 19 of 29 passes with no interceptions. In the second and third quarters, Leinart was 14-of-15 for 202 yards.
“This is the first time we’ve been excited after a game,” he said, “guys giving each other fives—offense, defense. Really on the sidelines we were there for each other. That’s something we’ve kind of lacked for whatever reason.”
Edgerrin James gained 96 yards in 22 carries, his best day since coming to the Cardinals this season.
“It’s cool, you know,” James said, “but you always want to go over 100.”
The Lions (2-8), who lost running back Kevin Jones to a sprained ankle late in the first quarter, made a comeback from a 17-0 deficit.
The Cardinals (2-8), though, chewed up the remaining time after the kickoff, with James doing most of the damage and Marcel Shipp gaining 3 yards for a crucial first down.
“That was big,” wide receiver Anquan Boldin said. “We’ve let some leads go late into some games, and winning a game like this can push you over the hump.”
Kitna finished 23-for-38 for 233 yards and was intercepted once. He was sacked three times, twice by Bertrand Berry, who left the game with an elbow injury in the second half.
The Cardinals hadn’t won since their season opener, their worst start to a season since 1975.
“It’s been a long time,” said Dennis Green, who had watched his team botch late shots at victory against St. Louis, Kansas City and Chicago. “We’ve played decent in front of the home crowd. We didn’t play decent enough.”
Until they faced the Lions, who fell to 0-5 on the road.
“That’s very disappointing to me because I really hit it extremely hard all week—what it takes to win on the road,” Lions coach Rod Marinelli said. “It starts with defense. You’ve got to have great defense on the road, and we came up short in that area.”
The Lions threatened first when Casey FitzSimmons blocked Scott Player’s punt to give Detroit the ball at the Arizona 14. But three plays later, Gerald Hayes tipped Kitna’s pass and Aaron Francisco intercepted.
The game remained scoreless until midway through the second quarter, when Leinart—on a flea-flicker, with James pitching the ball back to the quarterback—threw a 24-yard pass to Larry Fitzgerald down the right sideline. Fitzgerald landed out of bounds, but officials ruled he was forced out by Dre’ Bly.
The drive went 88 yards in 11 plays, capped by Leinart’s 2-yard scoring pass to Bryant Johnson and Arizona led 7-0.
Neil Rackers’ 38-yard field goal go gave the Cardinals a 10-0 halftime lead.
Boldin caught a 44-yard pass from Leinart, despite a pass interference penalty on Bly, to set up the rookie quarterback’s 9-yard scramble that gave the Cardinals a 17-0 lead in the third quarter. Boldin had five catches for 87 yards.
Detroit finally launched a drive, and a pass interference penalty against David Macklin gave the Lions first down at the 1. But the Lions lost 13 yards on the next three plays, the last six on Berry’s second sack of the game.
Kitna seemed to point the finger at offensive coordinator Mike Martz.
“You just can’t do that,” Kitna said. “I’m not sure what the answer is. You’ll have to ask coach Martz about that one.”
Jason Hanson’s 32-yard field made it 17-3.
“We stuck it out. We finished the game off, a close game,” Leinart said. “Our defense played great. Really, the guys up front, I thought it was the best we’ve done all year, and Edge ran the best he’s run.<” ^Notes: Detroit lost three others to injuries—defensive tackle Shawn Cody (toe), wide receiver Eddie Drummond (concussion) and wide receiver DeVale Ellis (shoulder). … Berry said his elbow problem was not serious. … Leinart’s current and USC teammate, rookie starting guard Deuce Lutui, played after attending the birth of his daughter at 9 a.m., five hours before kickoff.