TEMPE, Ariz. — Anyone who is a big fan of wide receiver play should enjoy Sunday’s matchup between the Arizona Cardinals and Houston Texans.
On one sideline will stand Larry Fitzgerald, the Arizona Cardinals’ all-time leader in receptions, yards, touchdowns, 100-yard games and 1,000-yard seasons.
On the other sideline will stand Andre Johnson, the Houston Texans’ all-time leader in receptions, yards, touchdowns, 100-yard games and 1,000-yard seasons.
Each led their respective conferences in receptions in 2008, and each has been to the Pro Bowl multiple times (Fitzgerald 7, Johnson 6).
They were both selected third overall in their respective drafts, with Johnson being drafted out of Miami in 2003 and Fitzgerald out of Pittsburgh in 2004.
Both come in at 6-foot-3, and each has battled injuries and ineffective quarterback play while watching other receivers blessed with better quarterbacks post superior numbers.
But at 30 and 32, respectively, Fitzgerald and Johnson are still very much at the top of their games.
“Great hand-eye coordination; he can go up and get any ball,” Texans cornerback Jonathan Joseph said of Fitzgerald. “He’s never really covered just because the quarterback kind of gives him a chance to go up and make a play on the ball at all times.”
“When you get a veteran guy like ‘Dre who takes care of himself and does all the small things because the age may get up there a little bit, those are the most dangerous guys because they actually hone in on more of their craft than anything,” Cardinals defensive lineman Darnell Dockett said of Johnson. “Still one of the top five best receivers. Still fast, go get the ball, plays aggressive, can run with the best of them.”
Throughout their careers the receivers have avoided the type of drama that has often felled their contemporaries, each letting their play on the field do the talking.
“He plays the game the way it should be played,” Fitzgerald said of Johnson, whom he considers a friend who he normally roots for, just not this Sunday.
“He’s never been the type to talk or showboat, flashy,” added cornerback Jerraud Powers, who has matched up with Johnson before. “He always seemed to just stay to himself and just do his job, and he’s been doing it since he got in the league. I’ve got a ton of respect for him.”
On the season, Fitzgerald has caught 36 passes for 470 yards and five touchdowns. Johnson, on the other hand, has hauled in 57 passes for 813 yards and three scores — with nine catches, 229 yards and the touchdowns all coming in the team’s loss to Indianapolis last Sunday.
“Certainly, Fitzgerald is a guy with the Cardinals that’s the same kind of player (as Johnson) that can make plays for you anytime you throw him the ball,” said Texans defensive coordinator and interim head coach Wade Phillips.
But while their production may be similar and their personalities do not differ much, Cardinals offense lineman Eric Winston, who has played with both wideouts, said their styles could not be more different.
“I think Larry’s a heck of a…his body control, his ball catching ability — everything about him has made him, I think, the receiver he is,” he said. “Andre is that kind of specimen, athlete-type guy, he looks at a weight and then he puts on weight.”
In fact, Winston said in college, they had to get Johnson to stop lifting weights because he added muscle easily and would have gotten to be too heavy.
However, Winston said Johnson was not a “natural ball catcher” like Fitzgerald, adding that he had to work to get to the level he’s at now.
“They’re both great guys, they both work their butts off,” he said. “I think that’s probably a common trait of a lot of great receivers, and they’re no different with both of them.
“You know, I’ve gotten a chance to play with a lot of great running backs in this league and probably two of the best receivers that have been around the last decade in those two guys. It’s been a treat.”
That treat will belong to everyone at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday as two of the best receivers of their generation look to add to their already impressive resumes.
Though at this point, the statistics may not matter.
“If Andre is anything like Larry, which I’m sure he is,” Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer said, “then he’s just looking to win now. It’s not about ungodly numbers or anything like that. He just wants to finish his career with some wins.”