TEMPE, Ariz. - The Arizona Cardinals head east with former third-stringer Ryan Lindley as starting quarterback.
Coach Bruce Arians confirmed after Thursday's practice that Lindley will start in Saturday's wild-card playoff game at Carolina.
The announcement was no surprise because Drew Stanton did not practice all week.
Stanton, the starter after Carson Palmer went down with a season-ending knee injury on Nov. 9, will miss his third straight game with a sprained right knee. He had the knee scoped last week after developing an infection.
Arians said Stanton, who will not be in uniform, "is close, but there's no way I'm risking it."
That leaves rookie Logan Thomas as Lindley's backup.
Released by the Cardinals at the end of preseason, Lindley was signed off the San Diego practice squad two days after Palmer was hurt.
He started the last two regular-season games, losses at Seattle and San Francisco. He threw for 316 yards and two touchdowns last Sunday against the 49ers, but was intercepted three times.
Arians said Lindley is "light years" better now than he was when he took the field in Seattle.
"When you get experience in big games, and those were big games, it affects how you play," Arians said. "I think he's more than ready to play extremely well."
Arians said Lindley "has the things that really count."
"He's smart, he's tough and his accuracy is getting better and better," the coach said.
Lindley is not overwhelmed by the situation, Arians said.
"That's one thing that's got everybody excited," the coach said. "It's not been too big for him. He's as calm as you could be out there, and they all know he knows what he's doing. That's the confidence factor everybody has."
Arians raved about the team's two practices this week.
"Yesterday's practice in pads was as good a practice as (before) any playoff I've ever seen," he said. "You had to say 'Whoa,' you didn't have to say 'sic 'em.' They were getting after it pretty good."
Defence has been the backbone of the Cardinals, who had a 9-1 record but lost four of their last six as the injuries mounted.
But the defence had its two worst performances in the last two games, missing tackles and giving up big plays to quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick. Now Arizona faces another strong running quarterback in Cam Newton.
Defensive end Calais Campbell said players have to stick to their assignments and not try to do too much.
"This game comes down to just doing your job," he said, "and if all 11 players on defence execute their job, we should be successful. But when you try to do too much and start pressing and try to do somebody else's job, then you're job's probably not being done like it's supposed to, and that's when you cost the team."
Inside linebacker Larry Foote said the defence's goal is the same regardless of what the offence is or isn't doing.
"If we have Joe Montana (at quarterback), our job is to keep them from scoring," Foote said. "That's our game plan."
The Cardinals (11-5), who travelled to Carolina on Thursday, are 6 1/2-point underdogs against the Panthers (7-8-1), who won four in a row to take the NFC South title.
Arians said this team is accustomed to that role.
"The locker room's loud," he said. "There's a true belief that we're going to win the game, and there's no doubt about it."
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