Larry Fitzgerald Goes From Stud To Dud: Has Fitz Really Fallen From Glory?
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Football is a team sport.
Of course, we all know this to be true, and yet, more often than not, we tend to think of it in terms of individual achievements.
We highlight a few stars, place them on a pedestal, send them to the Pro Bowl and forget about the other men who make them great.
Never has this been more obvious than right now.
Take Larry Fitzgerald. The very definition of stud receiver. For a time, it seemed that everything he touched turned to gold. Screen passes became 80-yard touchdown runs, wayward throws, far beyond the reach of normal men, would be brought in, single-handed in the corner of the end zone, while tapping both feet in bounds.
These superstar performances were normal occurrences for Fitz.
Since his league debut in 2004, Larry Fitzgerald has only failed to go below 1,000 yards in a season twice, once in 2004, and again in 2006, where he missed three games to injury, and still missed his target by just 54 yards.
He is also a four-time Pro Bowl selection and two-time First-Team All-Pro. In 2009, he won the Pro Bowl MVP award.
He is one of only a handful of players to beat the Madden curse, starting all 16 of his 2009 regular season games, both playoff games, making the Pro Bowl and setting a career-high, NFL-leading 13 TDs, unlike cover-mate Troy Polamalu who's season was dogged with injury and inconsistency.
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With someone as prodigiously talented as Larry Fitzgerald, it shouldn't matter who is throwing him the ball. If the commentators and statistician were to be believed, all a QB needed to do was get it somewhere near him, and he'll find a way to catch it.
Alas, if only that was the case.
The problem is that in doing so, he has missed as many catches he has made. He has not looked as sure-handed as he has been in the past, and his yards after the catch are nothing like what we are used to.
As I watch our No. 11, I see a player who is no longer sure of his ability to haul in the catches, and make a run. I see a man unsure when or where his next pass is coming, and that is certainly affecting him.
It is easy to remember games like their last postseason win against Green Bay and paint Kurt Warner as the most accurate QB of his generation, but in reality, he had his fair share of miscues and errant passed. The difference, of course, is that Warner and Fitzgerald trusted one another.
Fitz would be able to predict when, and where, errant passes would end up, almost telepathically. Fitz would know when a pass was coming and begin planning his run. With Anderson and Hall, the same can not be said.
One of Larry Fitzgerald's biggest skills was making difficult catches look effortless; now, even the most simple pass is a huge effort, both physically and mentally.
Yes, he has 601 yards on 49 receptions in his 10 games this season, and with six games to play against some weak passing teams, he may still top the 1,000-yard mark again.
The problem is, however, that this year should have been Larry's year. In the past two years, Fitzgerald was one of three stud receivers, all of whom went above 1,000 yards in 2008, only the fifth trio ever to do so, being thrown to by an experienced, knowledgeable QB who could complete passes to anyone.
This year, Fitz and Breaston should have been the only real outlets for an inexperienced and less talented QB to unload the ball to, and with Steve Breaston missing several games to injury, Larry Fitzgerald should be well on his way to a career season.
He is not. And that concerns me.
On the one hand, he must see former partner Anquan Boldin and remind himself that moving away doesn't automatically result in improved numbers, but on the other hand, it's hard not to question your future with an organization, when you see your potential capped by the performance of others.
He remains under contract until 2011, and has shown no signs that he won't, at very least, return to the bargaining table if and when the Arizona Cardinals look to extend his contract, something they should be looking to do no later than this offseason.
He is also clearly very loyal to the Arizona Cardinals. He offered to restructure his contract once more to free up space to keep his friend Anquan Boldin on the team. He included a No Trade clause in his 2008 contract renegotiation, and works hard to ensure that he is a positive influence on the team.
But he is also visibly frustrated.
"I'm human," he told Paola Boivin of the Arizona Republic. "I want to be successful. I have a burning desire to be great, not just as a player, but as a team, and sometimes my emotions flow over."
"But as a captain, I have to keep an even keel. I don't want to give bad body language so my teammates don't think I'm not on the same page."
It looks unlikely that Fitz will even set any personal records this season, let alone league ones. His fourth consecutive, fifth-overall Pro Bowl selection looks doubtful at this point, and even winning games, let alone divisions, is no longer a simple task for the man.
He is surely a superstar, and will surely return to his former glory, but it is so frustrating to watch him try to do so under such difficult circumstances.
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