<
>

Wild Card: Leinart's up and down in loss to Patriots

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.