Broncos 37

(8-6, 5-3 away)

Cardinals 20

(4-10, 3-5 home)

Coverage: CBS

4:05 PM ET, December 17, 2006

U of Phoenix Stadium, Glendale, AZ 

1 2 3 4 T
DEN 10 6 7 1437
ARI 0 10 3 720

Top Performers

Passing: J. Cutler (DEN) - 261 YDS, 2 TD, 1 INT

Rushing: E. James (ARI) - 14 CAR, 63 YDS, 1 TD

Receiving: J. Walker (DEN) - 5 REC, 84 YDS, 1 TD

Broncos' Cutler outduels Cards' Leinart in rookie battle

GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) -- Matt Leinart got the hype and the Heisman. Jay Cutler might get his NFL team into the playoffs.

Scouts Inc.'s take ...
The big story coming into this game was the battle of rookie QBs Jay Cutler (right) and Matt Leinart. Leinart had been playing better, but it was Cutler who got the job done on this day.

Coach Mike Shanahan has done a good job of trimming down the offense in the past two weeks and that has made Cutler's job a lot easier. He is quicker with his reads and making better decisions with the ball.

The other big factor in this game was the play of the Denver defense. The unit had become very vanilla in recent weeks, but defensive coordinator Larry Coyer did a good job of mixing his blitz packages and coverages in the back end to confuse Leinart and ground the Arizona offense.

The two rookie quarterbacks with big expectations matched up for the first time on Sunday, and this one went to Cutler and the Denver Broncos.

He threw two touchdown passes in his first NFL victory, and the Broncos (8-6) beat Leinart and the Arizona Cardinals 37-20 to snap a four-game losing streak and keep their playoff hopes alive.

Cutler threw a 54-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker on the Broncos' third play from scrimmage, then added a 10-yard scoring pass to Rod Smith in the second half.

"You saw what he could do today," Denver coach Mike Shanahan said. "It doesn't take a genius out there to figure out this guy is very composed, can make all the throws, and plays with a lot of confidence."

In his third start, Cutler completed 21 of 31 passes for 261 yards and was intercepted once.

"Those first two games were kind of rough," Cutler said. "I wasn't seeing the field as well as I knew I could. Today I felt comfortable and was seeing the field well."

Leinart was 20-of-35 for 214 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions, both by Champ Bailey. Leinart was sacked three times and hit as he threw on several other occasions.

Leinart was the No. 10 pick in the draft and Cutler No. 11, but both brushed aside suggestions that Sunday's personal matchup meant anything.

"It has nothing to do with that. That didn't cross my mind," Leinart said. "I wasn't worried about a Matt vs. Jay contest."

A rookie who wasn't drafted at all, Mike Bell, rushed for 61 yards in 16 carries, including a pair of 1-yard TD runs, and Jason Elam kicked three field goals in Denver's highest-scoring performance of the season.

"They think they can be a playoff team and they're probably right," Arizona coach Dennis Green said. "That's what Denver was today."

It was a big day for Bell, who played high school football in suburban Phoenix and at the University of Arizona, then made the Broncos as an undrafted free agent.

"Coming home and being able to do that is just amazing," he said.

The Cardinals (4-10) had won two straight and three of their last four, but they were in trouble from the start in their final home game of the season.

The Broncos outgained Arizona 240 yards to 60 in the first half with a 14-3 first-down advantage, but led only 16-10 at the break.

The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead when Robert Griffith intercepted Cutler's pass on the third play of the second half. Griffith returned it 23 yards to the Denver 28, but Arizona couldn't move the ball.

A holding penalty against Fred Wakefield negated Neil Rackers' 40-yard field goal, and Rackers then missed from 50.

Denver took over at its 40 and went 60 yards in six plays, Cutler throwing to Smith for the score to put the Broncos up 23-10.

Bryant Johnson dropped what would have been a touchdown pass on Arizona's next possession, leaving Rackers to kick a 38-yard field goal to make it 23-13.

Quincy Morgan returned the subsequent kickoff 64 yards to the Cardinals' 21. Six plays later -- on the third play of the fourth quarter -- Bell scored from the 1 and Denver led 30-13.

Leinart's bad day got off to a rotten start. On Arizona's first play from scrimmage, he was intercepted by Bailey. That led to Elam's 30-yard field goal to put Denver ahead 10-0 with 8:51 left in the first quarter.

The Broncos used up 16 minutes on two long first-half drives but only came away with a pair of field goals.

Denver took nine minutes off the clock on a 17-play, 78-yard drive that stalled on the Arizona 4, and Elam's 22-yarder boosted the lead to 13-0.

Rackers' 49-yard field goal made it 13-3.

The Cardinals' first-half touchdown came after coach Dennis Green challenged a 36-yard pass from Cutler to Smith, who fumbled out of bounds. After the review, officials said Smith never had control of the ball and called the pass incomplete.

On the next play, Tatum Bell was stripped of the ball by Chike Okeafor and Antonio Smith returned it 4 yards for the score to cut the lead to 13-10 with 7:53 left in the half.

The Broncos then went on a 13-play, 66-yard drive lasting nearly 7 minutes. Mike Bell was stopped for a 2-yard loss on third-and-one at the 10, and Elam's 30-yard field goal put Denver up 16-10 less than a minute before the break.

"Offensively we were zero-for-three in the first half in the red zone," Shanahan said, "then we came back and found a way to keep our poise and composure and went three-for-three in the second half."

Game notes

Arizona's Anquan Boldin topped 1,000 yards receiving for the third time in his four-year NFL career. ... Denver was without CB Darrent Williams, out with a toe injury. ... Neither Boldin nor Larry Fitzgerald caught a pass in the first half. ... Rackers missed a 50-yarder and is 1-7 from 50 yards and beyond this season. He was 6-for-7 last year.

Copyright by STATS LLC and The Associated Press


Team Stat Comparison

1st Downs2617
Passing 1st downs
Rushing 1st downs
1st downs from penalties
3rd down efficiency
4th down efficiency
Total Plays7058
Total Yards362295
Yards per play5.25.1
Total Drives1111
Yards per pass
Interceptions thrown
Sacks-Yards Lost
Rushing Attempts
Yards per rush
Red Zone (Made-Att)3-61-3
Fumbles lost
Interceptions thrown
Defensive / Special Teams TDs01

Passing Leaders


Rushing Leaders


Receiving Leaders


Scoring Summary

denTD12:10Javon Walker, 54 yd pass from Jay Cutler (Jason Elam kick is good)
Drive info: 3 plays, 65 yds, 1:26
denFG8:54Jason Elam 30 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 6 plays, 14 yds, 2:57
denFG13:02Jason Elam 22 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 17 plays, 78 yds, 9:02
ariFG8:17Neil Rackers 49 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 10 plays, 46 yds, 4:47
ariTD7:59Antonio Smith, 4 yd fumble return (Neil Rackers kick is good)
Drive info: 2 plays, -12 yds, 0:19
denFG1:01Jason Elam 30 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 13 plays, 66 yds, 6:56
denTD9:01Rod Smith, 10 yd pass from Jay Cutler (Jason Elam kick is good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 60 yds, 3:00
ariFG2:24Neil Rackers 38 yd Field Goal
Drive info: 11 plays, 65 yds, 6:35
denTD13:54Mike Bell, 1 yd run (Jason Elam kick is good)
Drive info: 6 plays, 29 yds, 3:28
ariTD7:50Edgerrin James, 4 yd run (Neil Rackers kick is good)
Drive info: 13 plays, 80 yds, 6:05
denTD2:49Mike Bell, 1 yd run (Jason Elam kick is good)
Drive info: 11 plays, 62 yds, 5:02