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(Reuters) - The Arizona Cardinals' dream of playing on their home field in the Super Bowl ended on Saturday as they lost 27-16 at the Carolina Panthers in the wildcard round.
A highly promising season was disrupted when starting quarterback Carson Palmer suffered a season-ending knee injury on November 9.
It got worse.
Back-up Drew Stanton took over and kept the Cardinals on track before he sprained a right knee in a win over the St.Louis Rams which took the team to an 11-3 record.
That left Cardinals coach Bruce Arians with no choice but to turn to third-stringer Ryan Lindley, who had been brought in from San Diego's practice squad.
Inexperienced and with little time to learn the playbook, Lindley was unable to win the final two regular-season games for Arizona and he looked out of his depth in Saturday's playoff game.
The Cardinals (11-6) managed just 78 total net yards, the lowest in the history of the NFL playoffs, and Lindley threw for just 82 yards on 16 of 28 passing with two crucial interceptions down the stretch and four sacks.
Arians refused to blame the injuries for the loss, but he could not totally excuse Lindley for the two interceptions which ended any hope of a comeback.
"I thought he did great up to the first interception. He managed the game as well as he could. Then we got the big break and he tries to force one that should never have been thrown," Arians told reporters.
"We threw the interceptions at the end that cost us. We had protected the ball so well the whole game that was probably the deciding factor."
A despondent Lindley agreed.
"We had got a lot of momentum and were in the red zone and you have got to eat a play...you can't force stuff like that," said the 25-year-old.
While many will have sympathy for a player thrown in at the deep end, Lindley said his lack of experience was irrelevant.
"Regardless of the circumstances, of where I was six or eight weeks ago, you are called upon to win football games. We didn't do that," he said.
"It is a tough one but it will make me stronger. The tough part is that there are 52 other guys who don't get to play again together."
Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami, editing by Gene Cherry