I’ve mentioned before that Larry Fitzgerald likes to tackle for fun. With that in mind, I’m gonna just leave this here.
— Arizona Cardinals (@AZCardinals) February 4, 2016
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald
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Peyton Manning insists he hasn’t decided whether he will retire after the Super Bowl despite whatever he whispered to Bill Belichick. The Broncos quarterback doesn’t have the same arm he once did — he admitted it hasn’t been the same since his neck injury a few years ago — and to this, everybody nods their heads already having seen it on the field.
But Act II of Manning’s career has been fantastic even with his uneven end. No matter what the issues, he’s helped lead the Broncos to the Super Bowl twice, and it was just a couple of years ago Manning was flinging 55 touchdown passes (and he had 39 last year when everyone wondered if he was going south then.) Now he readies himself to take down the team that just sent the Cardinals to their unwanted end.
And for a moment, you think back to that few days in March of 2012 when Manning was released from the Colts and actually had the Cardinals on his short list of teams for which he wanted to play. So much would have been different.
There were logistical problems with Manning coming to the Cardinals from jump, not the least of which being a tight salary cap that could have been adjusted to get him on the roster but likely would have made it tough to put people around him. The offensive line at the time was not as good as now (although I maintained at the time and still believe that Manning alone makes any offensive line better with how quickly he delivers the ball and how he knows where to go with it every time.)
Manning liked then-coach Ken Whisenhunt. He insisted after he picked the Broncos that the notion he didn’t want to be in the NFC because of his brother being in the conference was incorrect. He did have Larry Fitzgerald, who was coming off a 1,400-yard season and, as you can see below when the two met after a preseason game, liked him some Peyton Manning.
Manning visited the Cards’ Tempe facility (pictured above right) and then in the next week chose the Broncos and the Cards stuck with Kevin Kolb. Whether it was ever serious or not, the decision changed a lot of things in Arizona. Whisenhunt’s team got off to a 4-0 start behind Kolb that season but lost 11 of their last 12 and the Cards changed both GM and coach. New GM Steve Keim traded for Carson Palmer, re-energizing both Palmer and the franchise. Bruce Arians, who was Manning’s first quarterbacks coach in the NFL and remains close to Manning, likely would never had gotten his one and only chance to be a head coach if Manning had picked the Cardinals.
It’s worked out well for Manning in Denver (and better if he can win Sunday.) It’s turned out pretty good for the Cardinals in the long run, although it’s fair to wonder what would have happened if Manning had made a different decision.
Tags: Broncos, Ken Whisenhunt, Larry Fitzgerald, Peyton Manning
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The Cardinals had a long season with a crushing ending, and so, with the Pro Bowl coming Sunday only a week after the team’s NFC Championship loss, perhaps it shouldn’t be very surprising that most of the team’s Pro Bowl representatives will not be going to Hawaii.
Only two of the seven Pro Bowlers — defensive tackle Calais Campbell and special teamer Justin Bethel — are going. Safety Tyrann Mathieu (replaced by the Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins) was never going to go, since he was hurt before he was even named to the team. This week, quarterback Carson Palmer (replaced by the Vikings’ Teddy Bridgewater), wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (replaced by the Colts’ T.Y. Hilton), guard Mike Iupati (replaced by the Bills’ Richie Incognito) and cornerback Patrick Peterson (replaced by the Bengals’ Pacman Jones) all bowed out.
Palmer said he wanted to give his banged-up right hand a rest. Iupati cited shoulder issues. I’m not sure what the reasons were for Fitzgerald and Peterson, although in every case, it might’ve just been a need to just get some downtime after a rough end to the season.
Tags: Calais Campbell, Carson Palmer, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Mike Iupati, Patrick Peterson, Pro Bowl, Tyrann Mathieu
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Larry Fitzgerald fought back tears.
The wide receiver has now played 12 NFL seasons. He doesn’t know exactly how many he has left – he has one year remaining on his contract – and at age 32, the end is much closer than the beginning. He also knows the NFL reality that coming as close as the Cardinals did to the Super Bowl, with the best team he’s ever been on, doesn’t necessarily happen more than once.
That’s why the pain was apparent on his face after Sunday night’s blowout loss in Carolina, a game that, frankly, the Cardinals never really were in. If the Cards had lost in a shootout, or a close game, Fitzgerald said, perhaps he could have dealt with it better, knowing the Cardinals at least made it a battle.
Instead, “we just didn’t have it today,” Fitzgerald said quietly. “And that really stings.”
Things will change. They always do in the offseason. Free agents will leave. New players will be signed and drafted. You hope that comes together. You hope that you can stay relatively injury-free, which the Cards – for the most part – were able to do this season. You hope that as a team you can build again, as the Cardinals have in each Arians’ season. Win totals have gone up and the postseason ladder has been climbed one rung at a time.
You hope. But as Fitz’s emotions explained, nothing is promised.
“The emotions are still so raw for me. So raw,” Fitzgerald said, when asked to assess 2015 as a whole. “In a couple days I might be able to have a little bit better answer for you. It really hurts.”
“Obviously,” Fitzgerald added, “I didn’t want it to end this way.”
— Carson Palmer stood up and answered the painful questions after the game. He took responsibility. He said “I” often and while there was plenty of things weren’t great on the rest of the team – the defense did not have its best game either – Palmer had to play well for the Cardinals to make the Super Bowl. He did not play well. He did not come close.
— While the Cardinals and Keim will continue to look for their quarterback of the future, Palmer is going to be the quarterback in 2016. He should be. He did not play well in the postseason but he was a deserving MVP candidate this year.
— Running back David Johnson was excellent, but it’s too bad the Cards got so far behind. He has definitely shown his future as the lead running back.
— The secondary as a whole was not good. Some of that was because of a lack of pressure on Cam Newton, but there were other mistakes. Justin Bethel was not the only player to get caught, but even Bruce Arians noted Bethel by name as someone who had a tough night. Arians added Bethel will get better. The Cardinals need him to.
— Among the free-agents-to-be are cornerback Jerraud Powers and safety Rashad Johnson. Both emphasized how much they want to return. But we will see how that plays out. I expect the Cardinals to try and get a Tyrann Mathieu extension done at some point, and I also wouldn’t be surprised to see a cornerback taken in the draft.
— The Cardinals will pick 29th in the NFL draft. There will be only 31 first-round selections after the Patriots surrendered theirs during Deflategate.
— There are a lot of other things to talk about heading into the offseason. But with the Cardinals done, there is time to get to all of that.
Tags: Cam Newton, Carson Palmer, draft, Jerraud Powers, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, NFC Championship, Panthers, Rashad Johnson, Steve Keim, Tyrann Mathieu
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Soon, the Cardinals will know if they will play in Super Bowl 50. Not that they are looking at this game – Sunday night, NFC Championship, in Carolina – along those lines.
“You can’t get the Lombardi without winning the Halas,” Larry Fitzgerald said.
The veteran receiver knows how it works. He’s reminded of it all the time when he walks through the lobby of the team’s Tempe complex and sees the Halas Trophy from the 2008 season displayed. That trophy signifies the key to what was a marvelous two weeks back then, an ending that wasn’t derailed until the last minute. (We won’t go into that now.)
But those two weeks are a crucial point. The Super Bowl seems so far away, both in time and as a journey. Traveling to Carolina comes first – that’s Saturday morning when the Cards leave – and then a game.
I believe the Cardinals are mentally in the right place for this game. A lot can happen in the game itself. I expect a close game. And the Cardinals can try and close in on an NFC title. After that, there will be plenty of time to talk about what’s next.
— It’s hard to get past the feeling that a turnover or two will decide this. These two teams are the ones who have forced the most turnovers in the league (39 for the Panthers, 33 for the Cardinals).
— The most glaring issue on offense in the Cards’ last two games was how the offensive line/protection/blocking got off to slow starts. Something to watch for in the first quarter Sunday night. The Panthers have a helluva front seven. The Cards have to hold up.
— During the Biggest Red Rage Thursday night, cornerback Patrick Peterson said he’s actually down to 199 pounds, a far cry from the listed 219 he played at last season, and down a few from the beginning of the season. He said he could still hang with tight end Greg Olsen if needed, though.
— I’m interested to see if they indeed would put Peterson on Olsen at any point.
— Will weather be a factor? I don’t think it will, as long as the forecast doesn’t change. It might be cold – it’ll dip to near freezing during the game – but Fitzgerald was telling me a couple of weeks ago before the Seattle-Minnesota freezefest that it’s actually not bad for players. Heaters on the sidelines, in the mat the players stand on, big coats. It may be chilly when a drive starts, but that changes quickly as the plays mount.
— For the record, three coldest games (by kickoff temperature) the Cardinals have played this season: 37 degrees at Philadelphia, 45 degrees at Pittsburgh, 49 degrees at Seattle. The Panthers were 41 degrees at NY Giants, 43 degrees at home against Seattle in the playoffs, and 50 degrees home against Washington.
It is supposed to be about 37 degrees and clear at kickoff for the NFC Championship.
— Arians, asked how valid it was that players will listen to players more than they listen to coaches.
“I don’t think there’s any doubt about it,” Arians said with a smile. “If I want to get a message to Carson, I tell Drew (Stanton), you know.”
— Not only is Fitzgerald the only player (minimum three postseason games) to average 100 yards and a touchdown in his postseason career, he could go catchless Sunday and he would still average 100/1. Right now, Fitzgerald has 912 yards and 10 touchdowns in only eight postseason games.
— Fitzgerald, by the way, was fined $23,152 for his illegal crackback block against the Packers last week.
— Ring of Honor member and former safety Adrian Wilson, now working in the Cardinals’ personnel department as a scout (and famously celebrating with Fitzgerald after his touchdown last week) is the Cardinals’ honorary captain for the game Sunday.
— If you want to see the Cardinals off Saturday, there is a rally at the airport starting at 10 a.m. Click here for the details.
— Defensive tackle Calais Campbell was a rookie in 2008, when the Cardinals went to Carolina to play in the Divisional round and were viewed, as Fitzgerald put it, as “roadkill.” That was the day the defense ruined Jake Delhomme for good, and because of a turn of events, earned a chance to host the NFC Championship game against the Eagles.
Campbell was a backup fill-in then. Now, he’s a Pro Bowl star trying to lead the defense. Yet, as he considered things, he’s not sure things on a fundamental level, are much different.
“Back then you just didn’t want to mess up,” Campbell said. “You just wanted to do your job. It’s still kind of the same case. The biggest thing is just doing your job. Making it just another game of football. It is just one game. You can’t go out there and try to do too much more than your job.
“As a captain and a leader of the team, I want to make sure that I work with the younger guys. Make sure they’re focused and they’re disciplined, and they can realize that it just takes doing your job. You don’t have to do anything extra. Just do what you’ve been doing all year. Do what got us here.”
The Cardinals are 14-3 after all. Maybe Campbell once again will be able to celebrate in a drizzle on the Panthers’ home field. Maybe he and his teammates will bring home that Halas Trophy.
See you in Carolina.
Tags: Adrian Wilson, Calais Campbell, Larry Fitzgerald, NFC Championship, Panthers, Patrick Peterson, playoffs
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Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald penned an article for The Player’s Tribune Tuesday, talking about his love for Arizona, the fans and his career as a Cardinal.
It’s a relationship that, at times, wasn’t always a lock to work out, given where the team was and Fitz’s salary was at certain times in his career. But if there ever was uncertainty that this marriage wouldn’t last forever, that was taken care of last February when Fitzgerald got a new contract that cut his overall pay but raised his guarantees, paying him $22 million for 2015 and 2016. After that, we’ll see. A new deal? Retirement? The latter seems nuts after a season in which Fitz had 109 catches, but you never say never. Calvin Johnson is talking about retirement himself. If Fitz does keep playing, I can’t see him doing it anywhere but Arizona.
His article, tracing his feelings of coming to the desert back in 2004, the emotional ride (and loss) in the Super Bowl season of 2008 and his feelings about this current team, is heartfelt. An excerpt:
Not many people realize that Phoenix is now the sixth-largest city in the United States. As this place grows (and grows, and grows), I think it’s important for there to be something that unites everybody, from the recent transplants to the native Arizonans who have lived here their entire lives.
I want the Cardinals to be that thing.
I want the Cardinals to be a team that you’re proud to root for and can’t wait to watch play. I want the entire state to always be itching for gameday to arrive.
There’s still work to be done — but we’re getting there. In fact, I think there’s only one, large, final box left for us to check off:
Win a Super Bowl.
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald
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There are going to be close games in the playoffs, Cardinals GM Steve Keim acknowledged. He also said during his appearance Monday during the “Doug and Wolf” show on Arizona Sports 98.7 that “I didn’t think we played particularly well” Saturday night against the Packers. (Which you could kind of see as Keim walked off the sideline following Fitz’s touchdown. Among the sea of celebration, Keim wasn’t smiling. He didn’t look mad, but he looked like someone who knows the Cards have to play better to reach the Super Bowl.)
Keim’s greatest praise came for the University of Phoenix Stadium crowd, saying the atmosphere was great that that “it gives me chills” to think about the white towels waving.” The Cardinals won’t get that in the NFC Championship, since the game will be in Carolina. Maybe that’s why Keim noted the improvements that have to be made.
— Keim noted that, aside from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, “I don’t think a ton of guys played great.” But the Cardinals were resilient, Keim added, which has been a hallmark of the team all season.
— On the 75-yard Fitzgerald catch in overtime, “what was the better play, Larry or Carson?” (As great as Fitz was on the run, Palmer made that thing happen.)
— Keim said he does not believe Palmer’s injured finger was a factor in Palmer’s game — which featured a few near-interceptions, aside from the two he threw. In the first half, Palmer had too much pressure in his face, Keim said. In the second half, Palmer just missed on some throws.
— The offensive line “played hard,” he said, but made mistakes, especially with second-level blocks. The run game has to produce more.
— On defense, pressure was sporadic (Keim wouldn’t touch the notion the Packers weren’t called enough for holding) and there were some mixups in the secondary and in gap discipline. Keim said he hadn’t yet talked to coaches about the last Packers drive, particularly the fourth-and-20 the Packers converted on a 60-yard pass when Jeff Janis got behind cornerback Justin Bethel. That can’t happen, Keim said, and he also said he thought a safety should have been over the top. “That’s Football 101, to be in the right place at the right time.”
— Finally, asked about Bruce Arians’ decision to throw the ball on second-and-8 with some 2:25 left in the game and the Cardinals up four points, Keim pointed out that the Cards threw up five with 1:44 left on second-and-8 in the season opener against the Saints. Running back David Johnson took that pass and scooted for a 55-yard touchdown.
“You know our style, you know our aggressiveness,” Keim said. “We play to win.” But was he nervous on that play? “Not at all. I trust our coach and I trust our players.”
Tags: Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Larry Fitzgerald, Steve Keim
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Where to begin.
Let’s start here: I can’t recall a crazier ending for the Cardinals. Ever. That playoff win against the Packers back in the 2009 season was back-and-forth too, wild swings of emotion, but that was simply offensive football played at an incredibly high level. I’m not sure exactly what Saturday night was.
There was one guy playing at a high level. It was Larry Fitzgerald, and that’s the best place to start. I think Fitz had already made a strong Hall of Fame case. But what he did Saturday, basically jump-starting a moribund Cardinals offense by himself, and then making that play in overtime to race 75 yards and set up the (well, his) game-winning touchdown. I know there isn’t much more to be said about Fitz that hasn’t already been said, but Saturday night? That’s how legends are made. They are made with epic playoff performances like Fitz had in the 2008 Super Bowl run, and they are made with 176 yards on eight catches in a dramatic overtime win against the Packers to put your team in the NFC Championship.
— Next, Carson Palmer. It wasn’t Palmer’s best game. During the game there were plenty in the Twitterverse that blamed Palmer’s issues with his Bengals background. There is no question Palmer was off at times and that end zone interception was, in a word, terrible. You can’t do that in that situation.
But Palmer bounced back as Bruce Arians always says he does. He was under more pressure than the Cardinals can afford to let him be under – the Packers had the better pass rush this time around. And the way Palmer miraculously spun out of what should have been a sack and somehow found Fitz on the 75-yard play was as critical and clutch as Fitzgerald’s effort on the other end.
— Palmer gets his first playoff win. It wasn’t perfect, but who cares? Not Palmer, that’s for sure.
— The first person in the end zone after Fitz’s TD to congratulate Fitz was former teammate-turned-scout Adrian Wilson. A great moment.
— Speaking of Wilson, he stood next to Justin Bethel tucked in Bethel’s locker after the game, quietly talking to the cornerback for a long time. I would guess it was words of encouragement after some tough moments for Bethel, not the least of which being Jeff Janis getting behind him to convert that fourth-and-20 play at the end of the game.
— The game was so nuts that the touchdown pass to Michael Floyd that was intended for Fitz, deflected high into the air and toward the back of the end zone, over the head of another Packer and Jaron Brown, is a footnote.
— Floyd, about that play: “I think God was on our side on that one.”
— Here’s a new one: Patrick Peterson was sitting on the floor in the locker room having athletic trainer Michael Blankenship remove tape off his ankle, when a reporter wandered over to ask him a question. Soon, Peterson was surrounded by media – so he sat on the floor, outstretched legs in front of him, propped up by his arms, doing his entire media session.
— Linebacker Kevin Minter, on watching Fitz tonight: “That’s that guy I watched growing up.”
— The Cardinals blitzed Aaron Rodgers on the Hail Mary. They did it from his right so he couldn’t roll into his power. And he still escaped and flung a great pass so his guy would have a chance. Sometimes, you have to tip your cap to the other guy. I’m guessing the Packers – after the hurt wears off – will do that with Fitz. And you have to do it to Rodgers.
— Sure, the Cardinals could have run the ball on second down, right before the two-minute warning and their final field goal. They could’ve burned up another 35 or 40 seconds. But Arians went for the kill. “I play to win,” Arians said. No risk it, no biscuit. I’m sure there are those who have issues with the call, but folks, if you are following/rooting for this team, this is what you signed up for.
— I could write more, but it’s time to go home. Got to get some sleep so that I’m up in time for Seattle-Carolina. It’s on to the NFC Championship.
Tags: Aaron Rodgers, Adrian Wilson, Bruce Arians, Carson Palmer, Justin Bethel, Larry Fitzgerald, Packers, Patrick Peterson, playoffs
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Once upon a time, before the Cardinals ran their home playoff record all-time to 4-0 with a thrilling 51-45 overtime win over the Packers, before Kurt Warner had more touchdown passes (five) than incompletions (four), before Karlos Dansby’s fumble return brought Mike McCarthy to his knees, there was a baby on the way.
No, not my kid. (My boys were watching at University of Phoenix Stadium that day, in fact.) But I have a good friend who has covered the Packers for a long time. And he had a daughter due to be born about a week after that Packers-Cardinals tilt. A Green Bay win, and there was going to be some serious juggling to do in his life.
Cardinals cornerback Michael Adams unknowingly had my buddy’s back though, and Money Mike’s strip-sack of Aaron Rodgers, leading to Dansby’s return touchdown allowed no complications with job and family.
A few weeks later, I sent my friend a surprise gift. It was a picture – the one you see below – signed by Adams, addressed to baby Madison:
Madison – I’m glad I could make sure your Dad was there for you. Michael Adams
This is one of the first things I think of when I think of Cardinals-Packers in the playoffs – in addition to Warner, and Money Mike and Dansby and Early Doucet’s helmet flying off and Fitz’s diving touchdown and Rodgers being thisclose to hitting a wide-open Greg Jennings in overtime for what would have been a game-winning TD and made my friend’s life that much harder.
This game Saturday night, will it be as memorable? If it puts the Cardinals in the NFC Championship, I’m going to say yes.
— I think the Cardinals can survive the loss of Alex Okafor. Not sure yet how they make it happen – I will be curious to see if they use DT Josh Mauro on the edge in run-down situations – but I think they’ll be OK. They managed fine in run defense in the games Okafor missed (Steelers, Ravens, Browns) and against the pass, they should be good with Dwight Freeney and Markus Golden.
— Saw this nugget from another Packer writer friend of mine, Wes Hodkiewicz: The Packers are 10-0 this year when hitting the QB at least five times. On the flip side, you have the Cardinals offensive line, which has allowed only 27 sacks this season – tied for fourth-fewest in the NFL.
“Knock on wood,” offensive coordinator/line coach Harold Goodwin said, chiding the reporter for bringing it up. “You can’t do that to me.
“We’ve done a decent job all year of protection. I don’t know where we’re ranked or finished, as far as how many. I really don’t pay attention to that. We’ve just got to make sure we’ve got 11 guys on the same page, which is the biggest thing when it comes down to protection, and win the one-on-one battles up front.”
Goodwin said the Cards lost two such battles early in the last Packers meeting. They know – as they have known all season – protecting Carson Palmer is crucial.
— That said, Palmer has been so fantastic this season with his footwork and moving in the pocket. He’s not Rodgers or Russell Wilson, but he’s better than Palmer 2013 or 2014 in that regard.
— Goodwin on getting Larry Fitzgerald to block so well: “It comes with a lot of choice words, is what you say to him to get him to block. ‘If you want the ball, bleep, bleep, bleep, bleep, you’ve got to block some.’ ”
Goody smiled as he said it. There is little question Fitz has become arguably the best blocking wide receiver in the game. Oh, and he had 109 catches too.
— Hall of Fame cornerback Roger Wehrli will man the Big Red Siren Saturday pre-game.
— GM Steve Keim and team president Michael Bidwill will speak at a pre-game pep rally on the Great Lawn at 4:15 p.m. Saturday. And don’t forget Flo Rida is singing at halftime.
— This feels like a David Johnson game to me.
— Bruce Arians said the 13-3 season has been “fun.” But (and there is always a but) “it doesn’t mean crap if we don’t win it.”
— Which leads me to this: There has been a lot of talk about pressure this week, and undoubtedly, the Cardinals understand that after a 13-3 season, winning at least one playoff game is expected. But as the talk veers into the favorite and the underdog and that pressure I mentioned, it’s better to be the better team. Just in my history covering this team, I’ve seen losing streaks and the Monday Night Meltdown and fumbles in field-goal range and horrific blowout losses. I’ve seen “the worst playoff team in NFL history” – yes, that was a hell of a ride – and injuries overwhelm a playoff team in New Orleans and trying to win a postseason game with a third-string quarterback.
This is the first time the Cardinals were considered better, the first time they’ve earned “better.” And it’s the position where you want to be, pressure or not.
Tags: Alex Okafor, Harold Goodwin, Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Adams, Michael Bidwill, Packers, playoffs, Roger Wehrli, Steve Keim
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There was a good story in the Wall Street Journal today talking to defensive backs who have battled Larry Fitzgerald over the years. Many like to trash talk. None trash talk Fitz, because, frankly, Fitz is too nice. “He’s asking how you’re doing, how your family is,” said former Panther and current Viking Captain Munnerlyn.
Fitzgerald wasn’t quoted in the story, but he was asked about it today.
“I’m just one of the guys, honestly,” Fitzgerald said. “Guys talk crazy to me, I usually don’t say anything, but if you are just talking regular … I’m not trying to lure anybody to sleep. He’s got a job to do, I’ve got a job to do. I’m just professional about my job. I’m not trying to hurt anybody or do anything malicious. At the end of the day, I’ve got a family to feed just like he does and we’re going to go out there and do our best, and the best man is going to win.
“I think there is a professionalism you can take to it. I just try to be respectful to the game, respectful of players who play it, because this game was great before I got here and it’s going to be great after I leave.”
Tags: Larry Fitzgerald
Posted in Blog | 13 Comments »