GLENDALE, Ariz. — Serving as a guest conductor of the national anthem at the Phoenix Symphony’s opening night Thursday, Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald was running the show.
Against the Eagles on Sunday, Fitzgerald was the show. The Cardinals’ superstar wideout put on his latest record-breaking performance in the team’s 27-6 win, once again proving himself the lynchpin of the Arizona offense.
“We’re improving as an offense,” Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We’re still a work in progress, but it’s a lot better to get Larry more catches than one this week. That’s a good place to be.”
Fitzgerald caught just one pass in a win over the Patriots last week and had totaled just 67 yards on five catches through the Cardinals’ (3-0) first two games. On Sunday, he had topped those numbers by halftime. He went to the locker room with seven catches for 105 yards while the Cardinals sat on a comfortable 24-0 lead. He finished with nine receptions for 114 yards and a touchdown.
On his second catch of the game, a four-yard shovel pass from Kevin Kolb, Fitzgerald became the youngest player in NFL history — at 29 years, 23 days — to reach 700 career catches, topping Cowboys tight end Jason Witten by more than a year.
“Jerry Rice had 1,400 catches, so I’m not even halfway,” Fitzgerald said. “That kind of puts it in perspective for me. I have a long way to go.”
Fitzgerald also extended his franchise record for 100-yard receiving games to 33. It was also his third straight such game against the Eagles.
Fitzgerald’s ownership of the Eagles doesn’t stop at 100-yard games. In five career contests against Philadelphia, Fitzgerald has tallied nine touchdowns, including at least one in each game.
“That’s just our coaching staff,” Fitzgerald said of his success against the Eagles. “Every single week there’s new challenges. … They continue to force-feed me new opportunities, so as a player, you really look forward to that, and you want to relish the opportunity when you get it.”
It might seem simple, but Fitzgerald’s performance displayed the formula that makes the Cardinals’ offense work: Get the ball to ‘Fitz,’ move the chains, score points. If the Cardinals can do that, they can win games. But it’s not always that simple.
John Skelton, the Cardinals’ starting quarterback before spraining his ankle in Week 1, has struggled at times to connect with Fitzgerald. Kevin Kolb has struggled to avoid turnovers. But on Sunday, Kolb and Fitzgerald were in sync and the potential of an offense featuring Fitzgerald was on display; the future Hall of Famer can be the difference between moving the ball in chunks and grinding down the field bits and pieces at a time.
“It opens up everything,” Kolb said. “They start doubling (Fitzgerald), it opens things up for Andre (Roberts) and Early (Doucet) and the tight ends. We’re going to move him around and try to get him the ball, but we have so many playmakers on this team, a lot of them people don’t even know about.”
The only thing you could fault Fitzgerald for Sunday was a blocking penalty that negated a 79-yard gain by Roberts early in the third quarter. On another day, that might have been costly. Other than that, he was typically superb and predictably modest.
“One catch, no catches — as long as we get the win,” Fitzgerald said. “I still feel pretty bad right now. I cost my closest friend on the team a (79)-yard play.”
With Sunday’s win, the Cardinals are off to their first 3-0 start since 1974, thanks largely to a dominant defense but also to an offense finding its legs more and more each week. If they are to continue on this trajectory — and perhaps match the ’74 team’s 7-0 start — the offense must keep Fitzgerald involved prominently.
Of course, he can’t do it alone.
“This is exactly where I wanted to be in terms of the situation we’re in,” Fitzgerald said. “This is new territory for everybody on this team. Nobody was born in ’74. It’s new for everybody, and we want to just keep rolling.”