TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -Matt Leinart was merely a witness to the Arizona Cardinals' debacle at the Meadowlands.
The Heisman Trophy winner and two-time national champion at USC watched from the sideline as Kurt Warner threw three interceptions and fumbled twice in Arizona's 56-35 loss to the New York Jets.
At age 25, is Leinart an NFL bust? The Cardinals' general manager and coach say no, not at all.
Like Leinart, everyone will just have to wait to find out if Ken Whisenhunt and Rod Graves are correct.
``Obviously the scrutiny has been particularly high, as well it should be, for him,'' Cardinals general manager Graves said, ``but nonetheless, I still believe he's going to be one of the NFL's better quarterbacks.''
This is foreign territory to Leinart, who last began a season as a nonstarter in his redshirt freshman year at USC. He says he is trying to make the best of the situation.
nart said as he walked off the practice field. ``But I think I'm getting better. I'm taking the time to up my game in every way that I can.''
In bygone days, quarterbacks were expected to sit a few years before getting a chance in the NFL. Now, those drafted early are supposed to be a success in a hurry, especially when they carry the kind of credentials Leinart brings.
``When you have a guy that's won the Heisman and been very successful in college, and is a high pick, they expect him to play right now,'' coach Whisenhunt said. ``But in my experience in the league, and if you look at Aaron Rodgers, when you have an opportunity to sit and learn an offense behind a good quarterback, it pays dividends in the long run.''
Whisenhunt, though, was offensive coordinator at Pittsburgh when Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the playoffs as a rookie and the Super Bowl title in his second season.
Leinart started 11 games as a rookie under coach Dennis Green, and Whisenhunt made him the starter over Warner to begin last season.
Shortly thereafter, the coach had the quarterbacks splitting time, using Warner to run the no-huddle offense. Leinart went down with a broken collarbone against St. Louis in Game 5 and Warner went on to have a strong season, throwing for 27 touchdowns.
ch pronounced Leinart the No. 1 quarterback. That changed through the offseason. By the start of this year's schedule, after Leinart had an awful preseason game against Oakland, the 37-year-old Warner got the job.
Warner got the Cardinals off to a 2-0 start and had a perfect quarterback rating in the team's victory over Miami. He was solid in a 24-17 loss to Washington, although an interception on a tipped pass led to the Redskins' winning score.
``Matt's not playing because, if you look through the first three weeks of the season, Kurt was as good as anybody in the league,'' Whisenhunt said. ``He had one bad game, but you're not going to give a quick pull. You don't want to take Kurt out because a couple of fumbles, and some of them weren't his fault.''
Leinart's statistics through 17 pro games, 16 as a starter, are not impressive. He's completed 56 percent of his passes for 3,149 yards and 13 touchdowns with 16 interceptions.
Whisenhunt was not pleased with some of Leinart's work habits a year ago, but he has praised the young quarterback's effort through training camp and this season. By all accounts, Leinart was stunned and angry when photos of him partying with several women in his hot tub wound up on the Internet earlier this year. He said he has worked hard to show he's a football player, not a party boy.
study and prepare every day, every night, like I'm the starting quarterback,'' Leinart said, ``because you have to, you know. I'm just going to be fully prepared that when my time does come, I can go in there and execute.''
Leinart said he believes the Cardinals when they say his chance will come.
``I can't really worry about anything else but what I do as a football player and how I take advantage of this time,'' he said. ``I'm just using this time to get better, that's the biggest thing.''

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