Larry Fitzgerald, 32, took the opening play of overtime 75 yards, weaving through a number of Green Bay defenders and stiff-arming one, to put the Arizona Cardinals’ offense on the Green Bay 5-yard line. Two plays later he ended the game on a shovel pass, advancing the Cardinals to the NFC title game for the first time since 2008.
“I just wanted to make a play for my team,” he said after the game. “We battled all year, had ups and downs. I’m really happy we’re able to get out of here with a win.”
Saturday’s NFC semifinal was the culmination of a career year for Fitzgerald, who set a new career high with 109 receptions in the regular season. In Saturday night’s 26-20 win, He finished with a game-high eight receptions, a career-high 176 yards and a touchdown.
He had a number of big plays throughout the game, including three catches of 20-plus yards to keep the chains moving.
Although the 6-foot-3 wide receiver has re-established himself this year as one of the elite wideouts in the game, he finished the regular season with 145 targets, which is the seventh-most of any season in his career. There were a number of drives in which he was never targeted, drives where he was relegated to blocking downfield.
The Minneapolis product is the focal point of an offensive system that led the league in total offense, and finished second in scoring offense and total first downs. He proved pivotal in the team’s first playoff win since 2009, but he periodically vanished. The Cardinals scored three points total in the second and third quarter. The 11-year veteran wasn’t targeted in the second quarter, and went most of the third quarter without a reception.
Arizona’s success certainly hinges on Fitzgerald’s performance: In wins this season, he averages 9.2 targets, 6.8 receptions, 74.5 yards and 0.62 touchdowns; in losses he averages 8.7 targets, seven receptions, 82.3 yards and 0.33 touchdowns. While his receptions are down in wins this season, head coach Bruce Arians is making a more concerted effort to get the ball into his hands, targeting him 0.5 more times per contest.
“We were considered the worst playoff team ever to get into the dance,” Fitzgerald said of the last time Arizona qualified for the playoffs. “But it’s a lot different situation when you’re being hunted as opposed to hunting.”
With a matchup looming against either Seattle or Carolina, Arizona will need another big performance from Fitzgerald. Arians should target his star wideout as much as possible; the Cardinals likely can’t take another offensively stagnant two quarters of not targeting him, like what occurred Saturday.