Larry Fitzgerald recently began slipping out of the group of receivers that people consider elite.
It wasn’t that anyone thought he was bad. Robert Norman at Revenge of the Birds, the Arizona Cardinals' SB Nation site, wrote last July that Fitzgerald's decline in recent years had a lot to do with personnel and changes in the offense, not just Fitzgerald.
Last weekend against Green Bay, however, he showed that he cannot be forgotten.
Fitzgerald caught eight passes for 176 yards against the Packers, including a 75-yard catch and run in overtime that set up his own game-winning touchdown catch on the next play.
It was the latest installment in what has been a stellar postseason career for Fitzgerald. He burst onto the national stage in the 2008 playoffs when he had four straight 100-yard receiving games and six touchdowns during the Cardinals’ run to the Super Bowl. He and Kurt Warner had a dangerous connection that no defense could stop.
In eight career playoff games, he has caught 53 passes for 912 yards and 10 touchdowns, according to pro-football-reference.com.
His explosive game last week was surprising, however, because he had seemed to be on the decline over the past three seasons. He hadn’t managed 1,000 receiving yards in a season from 2012 to 2014. It seemed like his time among the best receivers in the league was over.
But Fitzgerald may have been a victim of circumstance. His numbers were down in 2014, but he was still on his way to a solid season with Carson Palmer throwing him the ball. He was averaging 69.4 receiving yards per game in the nine games he played with Palmer.
After Palmer went down with an ACL injury, however, Fitzgerald averaged 31.8 receiving yards per game with Drew Stanton and Ryan Lindley under center. With Lindley as his quarterback in the NFC Wild Card Round last year, Fitzgerald had three catches for 31 yards.
Palmer came back this season and has been playing at an MVP level, and Fitzgerald has benefited. He had 1,215 yards and nine touchdowns this season as Arizona cruised to a 13-3 record.
Then in the biggest moment of the season for the Cardinals, Fitzgerald took over. He took a desperation pass that an aging Palmer threw across his body and turned it into a 1st-and-goal. Then he took the ball on a shovel pass up the middle to get his team to the conference championship.
Now as they get ready for the NFC Championship Game against the Panthers, the Cardinals have exactly what made their last trip to the Super Bowl possible: Fitzgerald, one of the best playoff receivers of this era, and a smart, talented veteran quarterback who can get him the ball. If that combination works like it did in 2008, and again last week, there's no reason Arizona shouldn't be making the trip to Santa Clara, California, for the Super Bowl.
Because while he may not be the best receiver in the league anymore, come playoff time, no one should forget about Larry Fitzgerald.
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