Fitzgerald, Smith: The tall & short of elite receivers
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) They are the tall and short of it among elite receivers in the NFL.
At 6-foot-3, with the surest hands in the game, Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald is on the upper rungs of the NFL’s career statistical ladders. So is Steve Smith, a rugged, 5-foot-9 dynamo for Baltimore.
Smith laughed when asked if he had taken anything from watching Fitzgerald over the years.
”He catches the ball well. He runs across the middle. We run the same routes,” Smith said. ”I just think our games are two separate games. Obviously, he’s a lot taller than me. Larry is, what, 6-2? If I tried to big-boy and box somebody out at 5-9, that just isn’t happening.”
Smith finds many other ways to catch the ball and make life miserable on defenders.
”Steve has been doing it for a very long time at a high level,” Fitzgerald said. ”He’s got broken bones in his back and he went out for 140 (yards) last week and brought back the `Pee Wee Herman’ dance. You’ve got to know what kind of game you’re going to get into with Steve Smith. He’s as fiery as they come and I love watching him.”
Smith is in his 15th season and says it will be his last.
His back injury kept him out of only one game, then he returned to catch seven passes for 137 yards, including a 34-yard touchdown reception, in last week’s loss at San Francisco. He has 36 catches for 510 yards.
The losses are mounting up for Smith. It’s not a triumphant way to end such a marvelous career, although he said late last week that he has no interest in being traded to a contender.
”If they traded me, I’d quit today,” Smith said. ”I like to finish what we started.”
After a long career in Carolina, Smith is in his second season with the Ravens, a team that was 1-5 going into its game against Arizona on Monday night.
Coach John Harbaugh loves the way the receiver plays.
”I’ve never coached a tougher one,” Harbaugh said. ”I’ve never coached a tougher one than him, physically and competitively. He’s a Hall of Fame tough guy.”
At 32, four years younger than Smith, with a new contract and in his 12th NFL season, Fitzgerald finds himself on an Arizona team that expects to contend. And he’s off to his best start in years, catching 43 passes for 583 yards and five touchdowns.
After all those years as a wideout, memorably out-jumping defenders for Kurt Warner’s long passes, Fitzgerald is in the slot now under coach Bruce Arians, and that means more blocking and some crushing hits. Fitzgerald just gets up and flips the ball to the official. If it’s a big first-down play, these days he might even let some of his pent-up emotion show.
He downplays all talk of a resurgent career.
”When I had success at 20 and 21, it didn’t feel any different than having success at 32,” he said. ”It’s all the same.”
When it comes to their career success, the numbers don’t lie.
Entering Monday night, Smith was 12th in career yards receiving at 13,760, closing in on Henry Ellard and Cris Carter. Fitzgerald has 12,734, in 19th place, running neck-and-neck with good friend Anquan Boldin.
Fitzgerald is 14th in career receptions with 952, one more than Smith. And in receiving touchdowns, Fitzgerald is 11th with 95, Smith is tied for 27th with 76.
Asked about a common denominator between these two very different receivers, Arians said, ”a great, great passion for the game. I love the way both guys play. They’re the ultimate pros and the ultimate warriors.”
Fitzgerald had a simpler one.
”The ball is coming our way,” he said. ”And we catch it. That pretty much sums it all up.”
AP Sports Writer Dave Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.