Cardinals’ Larry Fitzgerald continues to climb up record book ladder

Dec 6, 2016, 6:00 AM | Updated: Dec 8, 2016, 4:09 pm
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) runs as Washington Redskins cornerback Bashau...
Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) runs as Washington Redskins cornerback Bashaud Breeland (26) defends during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 4, 2016, in Glendale, Ariz. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)
(AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

TEMPE, Ariz. — Seemingly with every game he plays, Larry Fitzgerald finds himself climbing up the leaderboard for several all-time NFL records.

In Sunday’s 31-23 Cardinals win over the Washington Redskins, a game in which Fitzgerald caught 10 passes for 78 yards, Fitzgerald extended his consecutive games with a catch streak to 191, which is the longest active streak and third longest in league history.

He also became the youngest player in NFL history to reach 1,100 career receptions, at 33 years and 95 days old, and moved past both Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison into third place on the all-time receptions leader list, at 1,106, and is 10th in receiving yards, with 14,246.

“It is great, but the most important thing I am happy about is it came in a winning effort,” Fitzgerald said. “A tough, hard-fought game at home that we definitely needed.

“It is always nice to be able to climb up a little higher, but it is humbling to know that I am still 400 catches behind Jerry Rice.

Fitzgerald is actually 443 receptions behind Rice, and though he is still playing at an elite level, it’s difficult to imagine him ever catching arguably the greatest receiver ever.

But as he continues to play and produce, it sure seems as though there isn’t much he can’t still accomplish, at least on a personal level.

“It’s really hard to put in words, the names when he passes people,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said, noting Fitzgerald will have to play a little while longer to catch Rice and Tony Gonzalez, who are both ahead of him in receptions. “But to put yourself in that category of passing Marvin (Harrison), who I was with, and Cris, is just, it really is mind boggling as I said [Sunday] what he has accomplished, especially in those four or five years when he didn’t have a quarterback.”

Arians noted how when a team has quarterback issues it tends to have to throw the ball, which may have helped Fitzgerald’s stats a little bit.

“It’s rare, rare air that he is in,” the coach added.

A future Hall of Famer, Fitzgerald’s impact on the organization over the course of his now 13 seasons with the team cannot be understated. It’s one thing to be a great Cardinal, however, and a completely different thing to be a great player.

Everyone notices that.

“Playing with a living legend,” defensive lineman Calais Campbell said. “I’ve been blessed to witness him do his thing for nine years, so it’s been amazing to just sit here, front-row seat, and see him go out there and ball play after play, game after game. He’s my ultimate hero. I have a lot of love for him. I look up to him. He’s my role model.”

“That dude is the GOAT, man,” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “I learn something from Larry, like every game.”

Humphries pointed to a play near the end of the first half of the team’s loss to the Atlanta Falcons, when Fitzgerald caught a 10-yard pass and quickly gave himself up before calling timeout with one second remaining, which allowed the Cardinals to attempt — and make — a 54-yard field goal.

Humphries, in his second year, said at the time he wasn’t even thinking of how much time was on the clock.

Fitzgerald’s place among the NFL’s best players was cemented after his historic playoff run that propelled the Cardinals to Super Bowl XLIII. But that Fitzgerald is still playing so well at this point in his career — through 12 games, he is tied with Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown for receptions and is on pace for his eighth career 1,000-yard season — is due in part to his evolution as a player.

Whereas earlier in his career he was the X receiver, playing on the outside and going deep, since Arians arrived Fitzgerald has played more inside as the Z receiver, lining up in the slot and doing much of his work between the hashmarks.

“We had that conversation three years ago; no one likes to hear that they’re not X anymore, he gets to play X, but he’s going to make his money in the slot at this time in his career, and he’s doing a fantastic job at it,” Arians said.

In nine seasons before Arians took over, Fitzgerald averaged 5.5 catches and 74.4 yards per game; in nearly four seasons under the coach, he has averaged 5.9 catches and 66.1 yards per game.

Given that Fitzgerald has been running mostly shorter routes, it should not be a surprise that his catch percentage, according to ProFootballReference, has steadily risen in every year under Arians, to an incredibly efficient 80 percent this season.

Essentially, when the ball is thrown Fitzgerald’s way, he catches it.

On if it was funny to Fitzgerald that one of his milestone catches went for a three-yard gain, he smiled.

“No, they keep getting shorter and shorter,” he said. “But hey, I am getting it thrown to me still, so that is all that I can ask for.”

Fitzgerald’s perspective may have changed some over the years, as his career has gone on, and that he and the team have been successful under Arians probably helped him accept his changed role. He’s also become an effective blocker, which is something the coach said Fitzgerald had to buy into, adding it’s a rare combination of guys who are not only willing to do that, but be good at it, too.

Arians said Fitzgerald’s ability to stay healthy has gone a long way toward him still producing, as the nine-time Pro Bowler and 2008 All-Pro has missed just two games since 2013 and has played in 198 of a possible 204 games since entering the NFL.

Availability goes a long way.

“When you get in there and block, and you’re going to get beat up playing over the middle, he’s so big and strong and he’s in great shape all the time,” he noted. “I was thinking 80 to 90 balls would be a great year for him, but last year obviously was 100-something, this year it should be over 100 again.”

Fitzgerald is on pace to finish with 117 catches, 1,173 yards and seven touchdowns this season.

No matter where Fitzgerald’s numbers finish, be it this season or even for his career, what he has done since being chosen third overall out of Pittsburgh in 2004 has been a sight to behold. He is under contract for the 2017 campaign, so he may not be done just yet.

“He’s still going at a high level,” Humphries said. “Just, what’s he been in the league, what is he, year 13? What? How are you still running up and down the field like that?”

Fitzgerald’s continued success may be surprising to some, simply because players his age are not supposed to be posting those kind of numbers. But Arians said it would not be fair to say his star’s play has shocked him.

“Talent-wise, I had heard all the things,” he said. “Probably what’s surprised me more is how good a person he is, because I knew he was, but to be around him, he’s a hell of a guy.”


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