For a moment in the second quarter of Saturday’s NFC Wild Card playoff game, it looked as if Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley might have finally gotten it together enough to edge out Cam Newton and the Panthers.
But by the end of the 27-16 loss, Arizona had only put up 78 offensive yards and Lindley had thrown two picks.
It had gone well enough, to start. Not stellar, but well enough.
After back-to-back three-and-outs to open the game, Lindley dragged the Cardinals out from under a 10-point deficit to lead at the half, 14-13. He hadn’t thrown a pick, either, a fine accomplishment for the “backup’s backup,” who came into the game with four interceptions in just two starts and a 4:2 interception-to-touchdown ratio overall.
Arizona held that lead well into the third quarter, until Newton hit Fozzy Whitaker on a 39-yard touchdown pass and a Ted Ginn Jr. fumble was recovered by Carolina, who then scored its second touchdown in under two minutes.
Lindley had the chance after the meltdown to rally his team, standing under center at the Panthers’ 8-yard line after his defense had both forced and recovered a fumble.
Then the picks came.
First, one meant for receiver Larry Fitzgerald was snagged by Carolina’s Luke Kuechly.
“I thought had we gotten that touchdown after (Carolina’s) fumble in the fourth quarter that we would have won this ball game,” said head coach Bruce Arians.
Next, Lindley threw another pass meant for Fitzgerald with 2:03 left in the game and the Cardinals breathing into Carolina’s end zone. This time, Kuechly deflected the pass into the hands of Tre Boston.
“We threw the interceptions at the end and it cost us — and we had protected the ball so well the whole game,” said Arians.
The first was a “deciding factor,” according to Arians.
The second, a nail in the coffin.
“I thought (Lindley) did great up until that first interception,” said Arians. “He managed the game as well as he could. We didn’t do a very good job of putting ourselves into manageable third downs, but he wasn’t throwing interceptions.
“Then we got the big break, and he tries to force one in that should have never been thrown.”
Lindley would like to stay positive, despite assisting Arizona in three straight losses, including the end of the Cardinals’ Super Bowl hopes.
“I feel blessed and thankful to be put in this situation,” he said. “It’s a tough one, but it’s going to make me stronger because of it. It’s going to make me a better player, it’s going to make me a better person.”
The quarterback finished Saturday’s game 16-of-28 for 82 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions.