TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald is the most formidable receiver struggling in the Cardinals’ impotent offense, but the whole group is contending with problems often beyond its control.
Bad passes and missed blocks in protection have thwarted big plays that seemed ripe for the taking. Sometimes when that goes right, the receiver drops the ball. It’s been that kind of year in Arizona, where the Cardinals have lost seven straight heading into Sunday’s road game against Jets.
Injuries are now adding to the problem. Andre Roberts, the No. 2 receiver behind Fitzgerald, missed practice for a second straight day Thursday with an ankle injury, although he said he was “very optimistic” he would be able to play Sunday. Early Doucet, usually the No. 3 receiver, missed Sunday’s home loss to the Rams with injured ribs and has been limited in practice this week.
Asked to assess the receivers as a whole, coach Ken Whisenhunt said, “It’s hard to assess any position. We haven’t had enough consistency or continuity offensively this year.”
He added, “Our guys are trying. We’ve got to get better. Last week we had a good half of football. If we don’t turn the ball over, it could have been a very good day for us offensively. We’ve just got to build off of that.”
Doucet’s injury opened the way for the NFL debut of undrafted rookie LaRon Byrd, who took a vicious hit against the Rams and left the game with dizziness. He said he has been cleared to play this week.
One player who has taken advantage of his opportunities is first-round draft pick Michael Floyd, who had seen his playing time increase even before Doucet was hurt. Floyd had dropped some passes early and said he took it to heart. After eight catches in his first seven games, Floyd has 16 for 169 yards in his last four.
“I’m always my worst critic,” he said. “I mean, I’m yelling at me, I get down on myself more than anybody else could. But it’s always motivation, because I expect a lot out of myself to be productive and make plays when they come my way.”
One of the Cardinals’ critical flaws has been the inability to get the ball to Fitzgerald, one of the best receivers in the game. In the last two games, he has four catches for 42 yards, and he had none in the second half against St. Louis, when the Rams outscored the Cardinals 17-0 en route to a 31-17 victory.
Rookie Ryan Lindley got his first NFL start on Sunday and completed 31 of 52 passes for 312 yards with no touchdowns and four interceptions, two of them returned for touchdowns.
On two of the interceptions — including one of the two brought back for a TD — Fitzgerald was open for big gains but was badly underthrown by Lindley. In the previous game at Atlanta, Whisenhunt benched quarterback John Skelton when he missed a wide-open Fitzgerald in the end zone.
Fitzgerald has taken pains not to criticize anyone for his situation.
“You’ve got to maintain your professionalism,” he said. “It was like my son when we were home and eating dinner and I’m trying to get him to eat his vegetables and he’s doing everything he can to not eat them. That’s frustrating, but I know we’re trying to do everything we can to make sure we have big plays. It’s not a conscious effort that, ‘We’re not going to get Fitz the ball’ or ‘We’re going to overthrow him on this one or not call his number.’ We’re just not executing.”
One thing’s for certain, though: Fitzgerald is growing weary of this losing streak.
“Seven weeks, the urgency is like if you would be drowning,” he told reporters on Thursday. “You ever been in the pool and you’re struggling for air? How hard do you fight to get to the top? That’s kind of how we all feel right now. We’re struggling and fighting and doing anything we can to get to the top.
“If we’re close enough, I’ll pull you down to get to the air.”