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  1. #1
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    Leinart: "I just want them to ride or die with me."

    Leinart’s limbo
    By Michael Silver, Yahoo! Sports
    October 1, 2007

    SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – Matt Leinart sat at a crowded table in a trendy steakhouse late Sunday night, sipping a glass of sauvignon blanc with a faraway look in his eyes. The young passer was frazzled and forlorn, and not just because of the atrocious synthesized music blaring in the background.

    As a scrawny Owen Wilson lookalike warbled through a cover of Sugar Ray’s "Fly" a few feet away while Scottsdale's beautiful people mingled around him, the Arizona Cardinals' starting quarterback in name only struggled to relish one of the franchise's more uplifting victories in recent memory.

    Having given way to backup Kurt Warner for much of the Cards' 21-14 upset of the previously undefeated Pittsburgh Steelers, Leinart's day had been filled with bitterness, frustration and prideful defiance. Now, as he finished his meal at City Hall steakhouse, there was only detached bewilderment.

    "I just want them to ride or die with me," Leinart said softly of 2-2 Arizona. "If I'm the franchise quarterback, play me and let me stumble, because I'll fight through it, and that will help me and our team in the long run. I know coaches want to win now, and I guess they have their reasons. But I don't understand it, and this switching back and forth is almost worse than getting benched."

    In the next breath, Leinart went out of his way to praise Warner, his unlikely friend, hotel roommate and computer-Scrabble rival, and expressed his support for first-year Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt, the man responsible for this counterintuitive tag-team of an arrangement. "The bottom line is doing whatever it takes to help this team," Leinart said, "and we won a very big game today, so I can't be mad."

    Yet earlier, after sitting out much of the second and third quarters, Leinart's anger had momentarily overcome him. As he sat on the Arizona bench preparing to take the field with 11:33 remaining and the Cards holding a 14-7 lead, Leinart was approached by offensive coordinator Todd Haley, who began delivering a pep talk. Leinart snapped at Haley, with whom he has a good relationship, essentially telling him to get out of his face. Then the second-year quarterback rose, brushed past Haley and glared at Whisenhunt before taking the field.

    "He reacted just the way I hoped he'd react," Whisenhunt said afterward. "He was mad, and he wanted to play. That's the sign of a competitor – of a guy who can be our franchise quarterback for a long time."

    In the meantime, however, Leinart is suffering a crisis of confidence. Quarterback platoons can be pulled off sometimes in college, but in the pros such an arrangement is considered an invitation for disaster, and few are buying Whisenhunt's spin that he's merely using Warner because his familiarity with a specific “package” (the no-huddle, spread offense) is greater than the kid's.

    In reality, this sticky situation has been brewing since training camp, when Leinart visibly struggled to learn the new coach's system, while Warner began bearing an uncanny resemblance to the out-of-nowhere sensation who won two regular season MVP awards, led the Rams to a pair of Super Bowls and became the most accurate passer in NFL history during a glorious run from 1999-2001.

    Warner, 36, considered retirement last season after losing his job to Leinart, the 10th overall pick of the '06 draft. Back then, his lack of mobility and penchant for fumbling seemed unconquerable – but that was before Whisenhunt and Russ Grimm arrived. With Whisenhunt's grasp of offensive ingenuity and assistant head coach Grimm's demanding, effective transformation of a once pitiful offensive line, the Cards suddenly have a running game (Edgerrin James continued his revival Sunday with 77 yards on 21 carries) and the ability to protect a quarterback.

    And guess what? When Warner has time, he can still sit back, speed through his progressions and deliver pinpoint passes to receivers in stride. The gloves he began wearing on both passing hands late last season have improved his ball-handling and restored his unflappable demeanor in the pocket.

    Amid a hyped up atmosphere at University of Phoenix Stadium, with a team hell-bent on giving former Pittsburgh assistants Whisenhunt and Grimm a victory over the franchise that passed over both as head coaching candidates in favor of the equally impressive Mike Tomlin, Warner (14 of 21, 132 yards, one TD, no interceptions) was the voice of calm, repeatedly telling Arizona's offensive skill players to chill and "just go play football."

    Says Warner: "I joke with Matt, 'Hey, I'm pretty good,' but that's part of this, too. It's a hard situation for him; if I were the starter, I'd be upset. As the backup, I have no complaints. All I can ask for is a chance to play every week. It's working, for now. We'll see how it plays out."

    Leinart (7 of 14, 93 yards) has had trouble seeing the field and getting rid of the football for much of this young season, and against the Steelers his first three drives netted no points before he gave way to Warner. He thought he was done for the day – and, perhaps, for good – as Arizona took a seven-point lead with two huge, un-Cardinalesque plays: safety Adrian Wilson's end-zone interception of Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger on third-and-goal from the 2 with 48 seconds left in the third quarter, and rookie Steve Breaston's 73-yard punt return for touchdown (the franchise's first in 14 years) with 14:10 remaining in the game.

    But after a Steelers punt gave Arizona the ball at its 18, Whisenhunt called his number, and Leinart hissed at Haley and returned with a vengeance. In the Cardinals' facility there is talk that his penchant for late-night socializing and his adjustment to fatherhood (he has an 11-month-old son, Cole, with ex-girlfriend Byrnn Cameron and spends Mondays and Tuesdays visiting with the child in the L.A. area) could be distracting a player who, in fairness, has impressed teammates with his work ethic.

    One thing no one has questioned, however, is that Leinart has some gran cojones – remember his audible and perfect fade to Dwayne Jarrett on fourth-and-9 in South Bend? – and in that regard he and his coach are a perfect fit.

    Sensing that the Steelers would be expecting a conservative approach when Leinart returned, Whisenhunt called an 'X-Go' pass to wideout Larry Fitzgerald (11 catches, 123 yards), who raced downfield and reached up to cradle Leinart's willowy, 38-yard pass. Later, on fourth-and-1 from the Steelers' 24, Whisenhunt stayed bold, foregoing the expected field-goal attempt for a quarterback sneak, which the big lefty converted. Five plays later James scored a 2-yard touchdown that gave the Cards a 21-7 lead.

    So, to review: After shelving his starter for much of the game's midsection, Whisenhunt put his two most audacious offensive-play calls in the young passer's hands, and Leinart delivered.

    What now? Can the coach keep messing with his quarterback of the future's emotions like this, or is a benching – and/or an estrangement – a disappointing defeat or two away?

    "The whole thing is weird," says Roethlisberger, who admittedly is not a fan of Whisenhunt, his former offensive coordinator. "He sits Matt all that time, then puts him back in and has him throwing deep? It's just weird. I don't see how it can work. But that's just me."

    Says Whisenhunt: "It's worked for us so far. A big part of that is because we have two guys that are unselfish football players. If we didn't have that, it could be problematic. But Matt's a tough guy, and this is going to help him become a better football player down the road."

    As Leinart finished his dinner at City Hall Sunday, grimacing as Synthesizer Guy belted out Billy Joel's "Piano Man," he wasn't so in tune with Whisenhunt's thought process.

    "I don't really know what the motive is, and it's tough rotating," Leinart said. "But I'll just keep working hard and try to do my part."


  2. #2
    laram0's Avatar
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    Re: Leinart: "I just want them to ride or die with me."

    Maybe if the all mighty Leinart was doing his job this wouldn't be an issue? The NFL is about winning now. Leinart is pretty selfish if he thinks the team should stick with him at the expense of the team and his teammates.

  3. #3
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    Re: Leinart: "I just want them to ride or die with me."

    I agree. When Bulger got benched last game, he was saying if the coach thought Gus could give this team the spark it needed, he was fine with whatever it took to win the game. Leinart's attitude is awfully self-centered. Warner erased a 17-point deficit to tie the game against the Ravens before the coaches turned it back over to Leinart to lose. Then Warner engineered another comeback to upset the Steelers. Meanwhile, Leinart throws a hissy fit.

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    Re: Leinart: "I just want them to ride or die with me."

    Have a look at the Cardinals webpage, they gave all the credit for the Steelers game to Leinart. The fans gave it all to Warner, but the officials gave it to Leinart.

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    Re: Leinart: "I just want them to ride or die with me."

    There is some question to the validity of this particular article. Leinart's denying it and Silver's "Oliver North"ing it. He doesn't have a recording of the conversation so he doesn't have any actual proof that it really happened at all. Leinart says it didn't.

    That being said, this is obviously a hard time for Leinart but overall, as hard as it is for me to believe, the two-headed qb experiment in Arizona is working and should continue. Whisenhunt may have stumbled on a revolutionarly new way to break in young qb's that "have" to play($$$). Leinart's getting valuable experience and Warner's getting valuable playing time. The Card's are looking like a legitimate team, even if they are a bit of a novelty.

  6. #6
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    Re: Leinart: "I just want them to ride or die with me."

    Wisenhunt seems to me like a no nonsense,but good guy, so Leinart might want to be careful or he could be sitting and watching,but at least Wisenhunt has enough b***s to pull the trigger when needed.

  7. #7
    laram0's Avatar
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    Re: Leinart: "I just want them to ride or die with me."

    Bye bye Leinart...hello Mr. Warner!!!

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