It was a preseason finale so unimportant that, for a second straight season, Jake Plummer came to town with his Denver Broncos teammates without a pretense of playing. So perhaps the game will be completely forgotten long before the Cardinals open the regular season in 10 days.
After prized rookie quarterback Matt Leinart sprained his right (nonthrowing) shoulder after a sack and the Cards’ backups blew a lead and allowed Denver a 29-23 win at Cardinals Stadium Thursday night, there were good reasons to forget.
“We did some things fairly well,” coach Dennis Green said. “Some things not as well.”
Leinart was 10-for-15 for 125 yards and a touchdown before a sack by Broncos linebacker Patrick Chukwurah from behind.
But Leinart was giving teammates on the sideline the thumbs-up sign during the rest of the game and afterward was confident he would be OK.
“It was kind of a fluke thing,” Leinart said. “I’ll be fine. We popped it back in. I could have gone back in if I had to.”
Green sounded less confident, saying Leinart will undergo a magnetic resonance imaging test today.
“Hopefully, it’s not serious,” Green said.
The game itself left players generally optimistic — and happy the preseason was over.
The first-unit offense moved the ball easily — until it reached the red zone, bogging down twice before Neil Rackers did what he did all of 2005 and booted field goals. That was playing against the Denver defensive backups, after coach Mike Shanahan sat all 11 starters.
Starting quarterback Kurt Warner was impressive again, completing 10 of 12 passes for 132 yards in two drives. The Cardinals (2-2) opened up with five straight passes that took them from their own 34-yard line to the Denver 8. But two J.J. Arrington runs only reached the 3, and a third-down pass went incomplete. The second Warner-led drive was undercut after tackle Jeremy Bridges was called for illegal use of hands after Arizona got to the Denver 17.
“I thought we looked sharp,” Warner said. “We have to work on getting the ball in the end zone, but I feel we are light years ahead of where we were last year. I am confident we can move the ball.”
Meanwhile, the first-unit defense gave up 10 points on two drives, including an 84-yard touchdown pass from rookie quarterback Jay Cutler to David Kircus. Nine of Denver’s 11 offensive starters also sat.
The Cards’ defense stiffened on the Broncos’ first drive after Cutler looked like John Elway early, holding Denver (3-1) to a field goal. But on the Broncos’ first play of their second drive, Cutler used play action and rolled out left. Kircus broke wide open past cornerback David Macklin while safety Adrian Wilson was caught upfield, and Cutler hit Kircus in stride for the 84-yard score.
The game turned into a showcase for two of the top three quarterbacks drafted in April: Cutler and Leinart. Both sparkled. Cutler finished 13-for-19 for 201 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. Cutler did make one rookie mistake, staring at his receiver on a late second-quarter play and allowing veteran Cards cornerback Robert Tate to step up, grab an interception and return it 24 yards for a touchdown. But Cutler bounced back by driving the Broncos the other way and throwing a 24-yard touchdown to Todd Devoe with 6.2 seconds left in the half.
“He hit us for a big play,” linebacker Gerald Hayes said. “(Defensive problems) were mostly miscommunications.
“I think we are ready. We’ll show it next week.”