Leinart isn’t out there every off day, but he’s out there often. So it wasn’t because he had an interception in his lone official pass attempt in Chicago, or because he suddenly felt he had something to fix.
The trip to Chicago was a happy day for almost every Cardinal after a 41-21 win. Obviously wide receiver
Instead, he threw the interception and because the Bears scored a touchdown to pull within 13 points, Leinart was immediately pulled out after just four plays. Frustrating, yes. But coach Ken Whisenhunt emphasized the coaching staff didn’t see it as a setback.
Neither will Leinart.
“I don’t question myself,” Leinart said. “I’ve worked way too hard to get to this point to just say, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m terrible.’ I’ve come a long way to where I first came into the league. I know I can play well in this league.
“It’s a matter of getting opportunities and that’s the unfortunate thing, not being able to make up for it. Last week, Kurt had five interceptions -- they weren’t all his fault -- but he comes back and throws five touchdowns. That’s the way this league is. You can’t get down on one play. But it’s hard to let it go when you don’t get a chance to go back in.”
Leinart completely understood why Whisenhunt went back to Warner. “I throw a pick and they start to get a little momentum, so it makes it a lot closer than it should have been,” Leinart said. “That’s what I am mad at myself.”
But that’s all it is. Whisenhunt waved aside any concerns the coaches were going to have with Leinart, saying the only worry was “Matt’s own psyche.” Leinart remains confident even if he is ticked off at his throw.
Leinart did the right things on the play prior to the pass. He recognized the defense, he found the favorable matchup for the big play. He didn’t deliver the ball as it should have been thrown, but he knows that.
Circumstances are difficult for Leinart. He never knows for sure if he is going to play, even in a blowout. There are those who question Whisenhunt’s decision to put Leinart in with 10 minutes left, but with a quarterback who is still trying to get real-time experience for the day Warner retires, Whisenhunt can’t just give him two minutes and a bunch of handoffs to make it worthwhile.
The game’s situation dictated terms too. Whisenhunt acknowledged if the Bears had not scored a touchdown following the interception, he would have gone back to Leinart.
“It’s a tough mistake to make,” Whisenhunt said of the interception. “It’s a tough situation to deal with. (But) what I have seen from Matt, I don’t have any concerns or questions about him going forward.”
Leinart said that, up until Sunday, he felt he had been efficient in his limited opportunities this season.
“It sucks because you only get a couple plays here and a couple plays there, but you expect to do well,” Leinart said. “The unfortunate thing is, it was just a throwing error, and it looks a lot worse than it is because I don’t get a chance to go back in and kind of redeem myself.”
One pass lingers – and Leinart can’t know the next time he’ll get to throw another. In theory, it may not be until next season. It’s NFL limbo.
“There are a lot of people that want to see Matt do well in this building, players and coaches,” Whisenhunt said. “We are pulling for him. … Matt is mentally a tough player now. It won’t affect him.”
Warner needs two touchdown passes to reach 200 in his career.