GLENDALE, Ariz. — The youngest player in NFL history to reach 11,000 receiving yards is feeling frisky and having fun again. Not only did the Cardinals use Larry Fitzgerald on an end-around play Sunday, he also was sharp-minded enough to throw the ball away when he neared the sideline rather than be tackled for a loss.
It was his day.
Fitzgerald had two touchdown catches among his five receptions for 52 yards in the Cardinals’ surprisingly easy victory 40-11 over the Colts at University of Phoenix Stadium, and his last catch of the first half pushed him to 11,009 yards, past Randy Moss as the youngest to reach that plateau. Fitzgerald, who is 30 years, 85 days old, finished with 11,019 yards. He is five months younger than Moss was when got there.
But it has never been about numbers for Fitzgerald, 10 years into a certain Hall of Fame career.
“I really don’t pay much attention to it,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m in the now. It’s a great accomplishment. But Jerry Rice had 21,000. That’s the benchmark.
“It feels better to be 7-4. That is really what it is about for me at this point of my career. Numbers are great, but to be doing it winning makes it that much more special. My son is able to watch it in the stands. Those are the kinds of things that are important.”
If it felt like Fitzgerald at times was swimming upstream as the Cardinals searched to find the right fit at quarterback after Kurt Warner retired following the the 2009 playoffs, the offense of Bruce Arians and the recent strong play of Carson Palmer seem to have cleared some of those impediments.
“I’m at a good place right now in terms of understanding and accepting the roles that we’ve been dealt,” Fitzgerald said earlier in the week.
On Sunday, Fitzgerald got open and Palmer got him the ball, and that has not always happened recently. Fitzgerald already has eight touchdowns, twice as many as he had last season. With two more in the final five games of the season, he would become the ninth player in the NFL history to have at least five seasons of 10 touchdown catches. Rice and Moss had nine, tied for the most.
The way Palmer and Fitzgerald are working now, is hardly seems unreachable for a guy who had 13 touchdowns in 2009 and 12 in 2008, Warner’s last two seasons. Fitzgerald has 50 catches and probably will not get to 90, as he did every year from 2007-10, but he is an integral part of an offense that has scored at least 27 points in every game during a four-game winning streak, a run that has shown just how potent the Cardinals can be after finding a comfort level with a new system and a new signal-caller.
“The biggest thing is we have become more effective on third downs, so we are extending drives,” Fitzgerald said. “In the red zone, we are more efficient. We were able to score 40 points, so that shows we are much more effective. Carson puts in the time every single day. He works with us tirelessly in practice. He’s a great leader for us.’
Fitzgerald caught a 4-yard touchdown pass on the Cardinals’ first drive, scoring on his patented fade route, easily beating single coverage in the left corner of the end zone. It was a Warner-Fitzgerald staple. He then beat two Colts on a double-move for a 26-yard score and a 14-3 Cardinals lead three plays into the second quarter, breaking inside, then out to the right corner of the end zone, where Palmer laid the ball.
“I’m starting to realize the types of plays that those guys have the ability to make and the types of plays they don’t,” Palmer said.
Teammates understand that it has not been an easy year and a half for Fitzgerald, who because of injury and ineffectiveness has worked with six quarterbacks during that time. But they’ve never seen it get to him.
“Even though things haven’t been going his way a little bit earlier in the season and last year, he didn’t pout,” said defensive tackle Darnell Dockett, who was taken in the third round of the 2004 draft, two rounds after Fitzgerald, and has spent his entire career playing alongside him in Arizona.
“The guy works. He does his job. He puts in the time to be the best receiver in the league. He’s not a selfish. I’m not surprised he’s the youngest (to 11,000 receiving yards.) I’ve been here 10 years with him. I see him put the time in. You can’t cheat the grind. You are going to get out what you put in, and that guy continued to work hard.”
Fitzgerald was targeted 11 times Sunday, the most on the team.
“His opportunities are getting there,” Arians said. “He’s getting healthier. The chemistry is coming with all of those guys.”