TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Ask Larry Fitzgerald how he feels and he says, “Good enough to go.”
Not “great,” not “good as ever.” Just “good enough to go.”
Fitzgerald has been bothered by a sore hamstring since the second week of the season, and Cardinals coach Bruce Arians says that, more than anything, is the reason the star wide receiver has not been as productive as fans have come to expect.
Because Arizona hasn’t played since last Thursday night against Seattle, Arians hopes the extra time off will make Fitzgerald a bit more like his old self when the Cardinals take the field at home against the Falcons on Sunday.
Fitzgerald said after Thursday’s practice that he felt better.
“Am I where I want to be? No,” he said. “But I’m better than I was, and that’s progress. So I’m feeling good enough to go and play at a good level, and that’s what I’m working for every day.”
That Fitzgerald would even acknowledge the injury publicly is unusual. He takes great pride in playing every game, no matter the circumstances. In a decade in the NFL, Fitzgerald has missed four games. The last was Dec. 2, 2007, when a groin problem kept him out against the Browns. Since then, he has played in 97 in a row, counting the playoffs.
He was asked how much the hamstring problem has prevented him from being the Larry Fitzgerald he always expects to be, but he wouldn’t go there.
“I’m not one to make excuses,” Fitzgerald said. “I don’t use that as an excuse at all. I’ve got to study harder, I’ve got to run faster, I’ve got to get out of my breaks better. I’ve got to do everything at a higher level at a higher sense of urgency and be better for Carson (Palmer) and the rest of my team.”
He said he’s “one of the thousand guys around the NFL that’s dealing with injury and playing through it every week. This is our job — you’ve got to push through things.”
Some, most notably Kurt Warner, have suggested that Fitzgerald isn’t comfortable with all the new positions Arians is using him in, including the slot.
Arians dismissed that idea.
“I think Larry’s comfortable in those things,” Arians said. “It’s just getting him back up to full speed. I think that’s the biggest issue is the injury. I’m anxious to see him run full speed again.”
Palmer knows the injury has slowed his best receiver in recent weeks.
“Certainly the last couple of weeks I know it’s been heavy on his mind and really kind of limited him in some of the things he can do practice-wise and also in games,” the quarterback said. “But having the early game on Thursday night and getting an extra three days of treatment and then a bye week (next week) is a really good opportunity for him to get back to 100 percent.”
Palmer knows how important it is to get the ball to Fitzgerald. But several times when he’s tried to force it to him, it’s turned into one of the quarterback’s 13 interceptions.
“You always try to get him the ball,” Palmer said. “He’s going to make the play more often than not, more than any other receiver in this league. You’ve got to be smart when you do take those opportunities and take those chances.”
Through seven games, Fitzgerald has 32 catches for 422 yards and four touchdowns. Last week against the Seahawks, he had two catches for 17 yards.
That left him four catches shy of becoming, just past his 30th birthday, the youngest player to reach 800 career receptions.
The numbers were mounting up in a hurry in his days with Warner throwing the passes. They have slowed down since, as (by an unofficial count) eight quarterbacks have thrown to Fitzgerald since Warner retired at the end of the 2009 season, and most of them have had little success.
Through it all, he has taken pains not to complain publicly or take sides. He chose to sign a long-term contract with the Cardinals with the idea that the quarterback situation would improve. It was expected to happen two years ago with Kevin Kolb, then this year with Palmer.
Enter Arians, the longtime assistant coach who had Fitzgerald — who had played only one outside receiver position previously, and with great success — learn all three receiver spots. It was a challenge at first, and it remains a work in progress.
Characteristically, Fitzgerald will not criticize his coach’s ideas.
“Whatever Coach Arians wants me to do, I’m going to do it, and I have to do it better,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s plain and simple. He’s won two Super Bowls and been on countless playoff teams. He knows what he’s doing. His staff knows what they’re doing, and I just need to be able to do everything he asks me to do.”