GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) – Jay Cutler has his first NFL victory as a starter, and Matt Leinart has more than a few aches and pains thanks to the Denver defense.

Cutler threw two touchdown passes and the Broncos (8-6) beat the Arizona Cardinals 37-20 on Sunday to snap a four-game losing streak and keep their playoff hopes alive.

In a matchup of rookie quarterbacks expected to have big NFL futures, Cutler got the best of it, throwing a 54-yard touchdown pass to Javon Walker on the Broncos’ third play from scrimmage. He later added a 10-yard scoring pass to Rod Smith.

In his third start, Cutler completed 21 of 31 passes for 261 yards and was intercepted once. Leinart was 20-of-35 for 214 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions. He was sacked three times and hit as he threw on several other occasions.

Another rookie, Mike Bell, had a pair of 1-yard TD runs and Jason Elam kicked three field goals in Denver’s highest-scoring performance of the season.

The Cardinals (4-10) had won two straight and three of their last four, but they were in trouble from the start in their final home game of the season.

The Broncos outgained Arizona 240 yards to 60 in the first half with a 14-3 first-down advantage, but led only 16-10 at the break.

The Cardinals had a chance to take the lead when Robert Griffith intercepted Cutler’s pass on the third play of the second half. Griffith returned it 23 yards to the Denver 28, but Arizona couldn’t move the ball.

A holding penalty against Fred Wakefield negated Neil Rackers’ 40-yard field goal, and Neil Rackers then missed from 50.

Denver took over at its 40 and went 60 yards in six plays, Cutler throwing to Smith for the score to put the Broncos up 23-10.

Bryant Johnson dropped what would have been a touchdown pass on Arizona’s next possession, leaving Rackers to kick a 38-yard field goal to make it 23-13.

Quincy Morgan returned the subsequent kickoff 64 yards to the Cardinals’ 21. Six plays later – on the third play of the fourth quarter – Bell scored from the 1 and Denver led 30-13.

Leinart’s bad day got off to a rotten start. On Arizona’s first play from scrimmage, he was intercepted by Champ Bailey. That led to Elam’s 30-yard field goal to put Denver ahead 10-0 with 8:51 left in the first quarter.

The Broncos used up 16 minutes on two long first-half drives but only came away with a pair of field goals.

Denver took nine minutes off the clock on a 17-play, 78-yard drive that stalled on the Arizona 4, and Elam’s 22-yarder boosted the lead to 13-0.

Rackers’ 49-yard field goal made it 13-3.

The Cardinals’ first-half touchdown came after coach Dennis Green challenged a 36-yard pass from Cutler to Smith, who fumbled out of bounds. After the review, officials said Smith never had control of the ball and called the pass incomplete.

On the next play, Tatum Bell was stripped of the ball by Chike Okeafor and Antonio Smith returned it 4 yards for the score to cut the lead to 13-10 with 7:53 left in the half.

The Broncos then went on a 13-play, 66-yard drive lasting nearly 7 minutes. Mike Bell was stopped for a 2-yard loss on third-and-one at the 10, and Elam’s 30-yard field goal put Denver up 16-10 less than a minute before the break.

AP-ES-12-17-06 1935EST


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