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Arizona's Ryan Lindley has another chance to shine on NFL's big stage

Cardinals' Ryan Lindley gets another chance to prove he can play quarterback in the NFL

Typical pro athlete. When quarterback Ryan Lindley signed a practice-squad deal with the San Diego Chargers a few months ago, he had his wife stay home in Arizona, and he took off to the West Coast to live with another woman.

His grandmother.

"By NFL standards, being on the practice squad is a little bit less of a paycheck," said Lindley, 25, who was signed by the Arizona Cardinals off the Chargers' practice squad on Nov. 11.

"We just figured I could stay with family, and it all kind of worked out. My grandmother is in the twilight of her life, and it ended up kind of being a nostalgic thing for me. When I look back on it, I got to come home and hang out with her when we got done with things on the field."

Lindley is a good guy, that's not in dispute. But how is he as a pro quarterback? The country will get a glimpse of that Sunday night in a pivotal NFC West showdown, when Arizona plays host to Seattle.

By winning, the Cardinals would clinch the NFC's No. 1 seed and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. A Seattle win would put the Seahawks in the driver's seat for the same.

With knee injuries sidelining Carson Palmer and Drew Stanton, Arizona is starting its third quarterback of the season. Seattle is favored by 9 1/2 points.

"Any time you're an underdog at home, you understand what that means," Cardinals Coach Bruce Arians said. "You look forward to that challenge. It just adds a little fuel to the fire."

Entering this weekend, three NFL quarterbacks are at the helm of 11-win teams: Tom Brady, Peyton Manning … and Lindley.

"I'm in good company," said the 6-foot-4 Lindley, a sixth-round pick of the Cardinals in the 2012 draft. He was a standout at San Diego State, starting 49 games and setting school and Mountain West Conference records in virtually every significant offensive category.

"I have loved Ryan since we had him," Arians said. "He's a very bright guy. He understands this offense. He's got more than enough arm, and he knows what to do with the football."

This is Lindley's second go-round as Arizona's starter. He started four of the final five games at the end of the 2012 season, in which the Cardinals lost 11 of their final 12 after a 4-0 start. That was the final season for coach Ken Whisenhunt.

Arians, hired in 2013, kept Lindley on the roster last season as the third quarterback behind Palmer and Stanton, but the team released him in training camp this summer. The Chargers signed Lindley to their practice squad, but lost him back to Arizona after Palmer suffered a season-ending knee injury last month.

Palmer was injured in a Week 11 home game against St. Louis. Because the Chargers were off that weekend, Lindley was back in Arizona with his wife, the former Lindsay Rowe, a onetime star hurdler at UCLA. The two had just come back from church and were grabbing lunch when the news broke.

"She got an update on her phone that said Carson had gotten hurt," Lindley said in a phone interview. "I was just hoping the best for him, hoping it wasn't anything too serious. We got back and saw the fourth quarter of the game. Drew played well, and then we heard it might be serious with Carson.

"My wife said, 'Maybe they'll bring you back.' The NFL's such a wild ride. I didn't want to get my hopes up, and I was excited with the way things were going in San Diego. I'd taken a real liking to both [Chargers quarterbacks] Philip Rivers and Kellen Clemens and the coaching staff."

Lindley made the six-hour drive back to San Diego that night, pondered the possibilities, and the next morning informed the Chargers that if the Cardinals inquired, he'd be interested in going back. Sure enough, the Cardinals called.

"It was a tough decision because I'd really enjoyed my time there," Lindley said. "But in the end, I guess everything came to fruition. The opportunity that I thought was potentially out here has kind of come alive, and here we are living it out."

The Cardinals have played four quarterbacks this season, with rookie Logan Thomas getting a chance when Stanton was knocked out of a game in October, and Lindley stepping in for Stanton to finish the Week 15 victory at St. Louis. Lindley completed four of 10 passes for 30 yards in that game, and has yet to throw his first NFL touchdown pass.

Although many might automatically rule out a team that's on its fourth quarterback, the Cardinals have won in all sorts of ways this season — defense, running game, special teams — so quarterback for them isn't the same type of linchpin as it is in Denver, New England or Green Bay. For instance, a year ago, the Cardinals became the first visiting team in two years to win at Seattle, and they did so on a day four of Palmer's passes were intercepted.

Asked this week about people outside the organization doubting Lindley, Arians said: "The only ones that need to believe is that locker room, and they believe it… We like where we're at, and we like the guys who are playing for us, and he's one of them."

Former NFL quarterback Kevin O'Connell, San Diego State's starter before Lindley, said he expects to see an improved quarterback from the one who started those four games as a Cardinals rookie in 2012.

"We're definitely going to see a different guy," O'Connell said. "He'll make some good throws. His best quality is his arm talent and his ability to make throws from the pocket. He can push the ball down the field vertically, and make all the NFL intermediate throws.

"Whenever he's been down and out, I've told him, 'Buddy, understand all the experience you were able to gain. You got a chance to get out there and play in the regular season in games that meant something. And now you're getting a second opportunity.'"

O'Connell, who was with five teams in five NFL seasons, said he and a lot of other quarterbacks will get a vicarious thrill out of watching Lindley get another chance on the big stage.

"A lot of us quarterbacks are living through Ryan, hoping to see him do really well," he said, "because some of us never got that opportunity."

And watching from San Diego on Sunday night will be Lindley's grandmother, Meredith Hoagland, who still can recognize him on TV despite her struggles with Alzheimer's disease.

"We'll say, 'That's Ryan! Look at the sidelines!' and she'll get really excited," said Ryan's mother, Kay Lynn Lindley. "She's still his No. 1 fan. Once we start talking about him, she'll say how proud she is of him. She's that way with all 10 of her grandchildren."

Lindley said he cherishes the time he spent living with her this fall.

"There would be days I'd come home and she wouldn't necessarily remember that I was living there," he said. "She's the sweetest lady in the world, and she would invite me each night, 'Hey, we have an extra room. You're more than welcome to stay.'

"With almost tears in my eyes, I'd say, 'I'd be more than happy to. I'd love to spend some time with you.'"

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