Team of destiny leaves cursed Cardinals shell-shocked

GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Matt Leinart, the darling of college football while at Southern Cal because of his incredible knack for pulling out victories, got his official baptism as an Arizona Cardinal.

The Cardinals blew a 20-point lead in the final 22 minutes of one of the most bizarre comebacks in the history of "Monday Night Football." It was a game in which Bears quarterback Rex Grossman, who committed six turnovers, was just plain gross. It was a game in which Cardinals kicker Neil Rackers, who made 40 of 42 field goal attempts last season, missed a chip shot 41-yarder with 53 seconds left.

The result was a 24-23 Arizona loss to an unbeaten Bears bunch that appears to be the NFL's team of destiny.

"In college, every time we stepped on the football field we expected to win," a down-and-out Leinart said after the game. "Out here, that's something we have to do. We know we can play with anybody. We just have to go out there and be confident and understand that we can beat teams. This game, we should have won, but we let it get away."

"Let it get away" might indeed be the understatement of the season. The loss to Chicago extended beyond Arizona blowing a 23-3 third-quarter lead. Cardinal players sat broken-hearted by their lockers afterward. Their second-half unraveling led to an emotional meltdown by beleaguered coach Dennis Green, whose shouting toward the end of his post-game news conference fittingly underscored his team's 1-5 start.

"The Bears are what we thought they were," Green said, his voice beginning to rise. "They are what we thought they were. We played them in the preseason. Who the hell plays the third game in the preseason like it's bull----? Bull----! We played them in the third game. Everybody played three quarters.

"The Bears are who we thought they were!" he continued, yelling at the top of his lungs while pounding on the podium. "That's why we took the damn field. If you want to crown them, just crown their ass. They are who we thought they were and we let them off the hook!"

Unfortunately, the Cardinals are whom Cardinals fans have come to expect since the franchise moved to the Arizona desert in 1988. They're jinxed, plain and simple. They play in the sun with a huge cloud over their heads. Long-time fans in the stands of the pristine new University of Phoenix Stadium chanted "Same old Cardinals" once Rackers' field goal sailed wide left, sealing their fifth loss of the season.

Welcome to Glendale, Matt Leinart.

Like most West Coast offense-minded coaches, Green had Leinart work off a 15-play script, and for Leinart the script was pure Hollywood. A week ago against the Chiefs, he followed it to perfection, completing his first six passes for 89 yards and two touchdowns. But that's the problem with the Cardinals -- nothing goes according to script. The Chiefs came back to win 23-20.

Against the Bears' defense, Leinart followed Green's opening play plan to perfection. He completed his first five passes in a 77-yard drive capped by an 11-yard touchdown pass to Bryant Johnson. Leinart recovered from a three-and-out on the next possession by completing three passes, including a 26-yarder to Anquan Boldin for a touchdown, on Arizona's third possession. For the first quarter, the Cardinals were upsetting the Bears 14-0 and Leinart was looking like the confident Heisman Trophy winner -- 8 of 9 for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Outside of the script, however, the old Cardinals resurface. This franchise isn't accustomed to good times. Here in Glendale, they are the main attraction in a new, Super Bowl-caliber stadium, and fans applauded the opening of the roof for the first time. Later on, the game started to cave in around the Cardinals, as games usually do for this franchise.

With the lead, the Cardinals couldn't run the football (Edgerrin James finished with 55 yards on 36 carries). As the game progressed, Bears defensive coordinator Ron Rivera started run-blitzing because Chicago knew what the Cardinals were going to do with an offense led by a rookie quarterback. Bears defenders felt sorry for Edge.

"We know you're running," Bears linebacker Brian Urlacher said to James midway through the game, after one of James' many carries that resulted in no gain. "It's going to kill your average."

Rivera tried his best to blitz and make Urlacher the playmaker to lead what they thought would be an incredible comeback. What made this nearly impossible was the play of Grossman: He had one of the worst halves in NFL history. In Chicago's eight possessions of the first half, Grossman had four turnovers and four three-and-outs. If this were baseball, it would have been the equivalent of a five-strikeout game.

The difference between the Bears of today and the Cardinals of eternity is the Bears believe they will win. The Cardinals don't. Reality started setting in midway through the third quarter. Urlacher stood by Lovie Smith and defensive players looked at the clock knowing there was time to rally. Cardinals players were just hoping the clock would run out.

"To be truthful, our team thought they could come back and win the football game even though it was looking bleak for a long time," Smith said. "It was basically that. When are we going to do it? Somebody has to do it."

The Bears defense answered the call. Defensive tackles stuffed the middle of the field on James' running plays. For him, running to the outside wasn't an option. The Bears' defense was just too fast, and it set up three plays that swung the game in Chicago's favor.

• Ahead 23-3, Leinart called an audible on second-and-10 at the Cardinals' 15. Unfortunately, communication broke down on the protection. The rookie's mistake allowed Bears defensive end Mark Anderson to hit Leinart in the back unblocked, forcing a fumble that was picked up by safety Mike Brown and run back for a 3-yard touchdown. With 2 seconds left in the third quarter, the Bears trailed 23-10.

• Urlacher mustered all of his strength to rip a fumble from James' hand with five minutes left in the fourth quarter. Cornerback Charles Tillman picked up the ball and returned it 40 yards for the score, getting the Bears within 23-17.

"It's just crazy," James said. "I don't know what to say. It seems like every game is like this."

• With 2:58 left in the game, Devin Hester went almost untouched through the Cardinals' punt return defense for an 83-yard return for a score as the Bears took a 24-23 lead. The Cardinals were shell-shocked.

"You all were watching the game," Boldin said. "We've just got to go ahead and put them away. That's the attitude we've got to develop. We've got to become finishers. We're just not doing that right now."

Still, Leinart did his part to finish and he did a fine job of it, calmly guiding the Cardinals from their 38 to the Bears' 22. He completed three passes in the drive and managed the clock well. He didn't look like a rookie Monday night, particularly on this drive. He played like a veteran setting up a drive toward a game-winning field goal.

"We were calm in that last drive just sitting back there taking what the defense gives you," Leinart said. "Neil Rackers is one of the best kickers in the league."

To everyone's disbelief, Mr. Automatic of 2005 missed an easy 41-yard try.

"I just kicked the ground," Rackers said. "I'm not getting through the ball. I'm not getting my hips square."

Cardinals players didn't care about Rackers' coaching-clinic answers. They were depressed. They feel as if they're all cursed.

"I don't think I've ever been associated with a loss where it was kind of clear that the offense [the Bears' offense, in this case] couldn't score a touchdown," Green said.

The Bears generated only 168 yards of offense. Grossman had six turnovers and a quarterback rating of 10.7. Thomas Jones rushed for 39 yards. But the Bears won. A team of destiny.

"I hope that's the case, but we have a long way to go," Smith said. "Right now we're the only team in the league 6-0, and you have to enjoy that and think about tomorrow tomorrow."

For the Cardinals, though, their past won't stop haunting them.

"It's tough when we are 1-5 and we could easily be 4-2," Leinart said. "It's a gut-check time. We need to come together as a team. We still have a lot of football left. We have Oakland next week and we have to go up there and win and get some confidence."

Two games into his career as an NFL starter, Leinart is sounding like a true Cardinals quarterback. One who's cursed.

John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.