Lindley improves, defense falters for Arizona

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SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28:  Ryan Lindley #14 of the Arizona Cardinals passes in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ersat Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) By Ezra Shaw SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28: Ryan Lindley #14 of the Arizona Cardinals passes in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ersat Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) By Ezra Shaw
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28: Ryan Lindley #14 of the Arizona Cardinals is sacked in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California.  (Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images) By Don Feria SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28: Ryan Lindley #14 of the Arizona Cardinals is sacked in the first half against the San Francisco 49ers at Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Don Feria/Getty Images) By Don Feria
SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28: Ryan Lindley #14 of the Arizona Cardinals passes in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ersat Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) By Ezra Shaw SANTA CLARA, CA - DECEMBER 28: Ryan Lindley #14 of the Arizona Cardinals passes in the first quarter against the San Francisco 49ersat Levi's Stadium on December 28, 2014 in Santa Clara, California. (Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images) By Ezra Shaw

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) -- The Arizona Cardinals were able to generate some offense in their regular-season finale and can breathe a bit easier if Ryan Lindley is their quarterback in their playoff opener.

But the defense, once the backbone of the team, is coming off its two worst performances of the season.

Those games came against athletic, mobile quarterbacks Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick - and Arizona faces another one in Cam Newton when the Cardinals play at Carolina in a wild card game on Saturday.

"He presents different problems than Colin and Russell," Arizona coach Bruce Arians said Monday. "He's more of a combination of both those guys. He can really throw the football extremely well from the pocket. It presents a multitude of problems for us."

Lindley completed 23 of 39 passes for 316 yards and his first two NFL touchdowns but was intercepted three times in the Cardinals' 20-17 loss at San Francisco.

At least publicly, the Cardinals still hold out hope that Drew Stanton will be back this week. He has missed the last two games with a sprained right knee and had it scoped last week after developing an infection.

"He's progressing and nothing's really changed," Arians said. "We've got our fingers crossed that possibly he could go later in the week."

After a bad day against Seattle the previous week, Lindley at least moved the offense on Sunday.

Arians said he saw improvement in "a little bit of everything."

"The command of it, where he was going with the ball and Mike (Floyd) made some plays for him, which we didn't do in the other game, which we had chances to," Arians said. "It's just a matter of continuing to grow."

After a 9-1 start, the Cardinals lost four of their final six games.

A litany of injuries finally caught up with the team after Stanton, who had been Carson Palmer's backup, was injured. That left the job to Lindley, who was released by Arizona at the end of preseason then re-signed off the San Diego practice squad.

The offense's problems, then, were predictable.

The defense's weren't.

In the last two games, the Cardinals allowed 596 yards against Seattle and 395 to San Francisco. Wilson ran for 88 yards in six carries, Kaepernick 63 yards in seven attempts.

Arizona, among the league leaders in run defense most of the season, allowed 267 yards on the ground against the Seahawks and 206 against the 49ers.

"It's just because of tackling," Arians said. "Guys missing tackles."

The pass defense had problems, too. A miscommunication between safety Tyrann Mathieu and cornerback Antonio Cromartie led to Kaepernick's 76-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Anquan Boldin.

"Getting in the right gap and making a tackle should be pretty easy," Arians said. "As far as (defensive backs) making a hand signal - who's got coverage when you've got an all-out blitz on - that's not really hard either. The fact that it happened yesterday, I'd much rather have it happen then than next Saturday."

The players had Monday off, but after the game on Sunday, cornerback Patrick Peterson said the defense "can't win like that."

"As a defense, we can't give up big plays as we did today," he said. "We can't have those mistakes next week, because everything is on the line. It's win or go home."

Through most of the season, Arizona was among the league leaders in takeaways. They haven't had any the last two weeks.

That makes the job even tougher for the offense.

Arians said Arizona will have inside linebacker Larry Foote back. The 13-year NFL veteran missed Sunday's game with a sore knee. Before that, he had played on all but two snaps for the Cardinals' defense all season.

"There's no doubt we missed him out there," Arians said. "... the spirit that he brings. When a big play happens, it's not woe is me, he's getting in somebody's face."

The coach was asked if his team simply is not peaking at the right time.

"I would think you'd say that," he said. "But I don't think there's any concern, because we're in the playoffs and it doesn't matter."

It does to the oddsmakers. Carolina (7-8-1) opened as a 4 1/2-point favorite against 11-5 Arizona.