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Fine Finale For Larry Fitzgerald, Cardinals

Posted Jan 1, 2017

Defense dominates in 44-6 whipping of the Rams to close season in Los Angeles

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald fights off the tackle of Rams safety Maurice Alexander during Sunday's 44-6 win for the Cards.

LOS ANGELES – The chants in the cavernous Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were easy to hear.

“Lar-RY! Lar-RY!”

The five-yard touchdown catch by Larry Fitzgerald came early in the fourth quarter. The rest of the game played out, but it was the TD – which gave the Cardinals a 37-6 lead against the Rams – that was truly the end of the season. It capped a nice finale for an otherwise disappointing season for the Cardinals, and it helped wipe away what had been the ugly news of the day – a scary left knee injury for running back David Johnson.

Johnson’s injury apparently isn’t serious – he will have an MRI Monday and might have meniscus damage, but his ligaments seem to be OK, coach Bruce Arians said – and the Cardinals rolled to a 44-6 blowout.

There are no playoffs – “It’s always terrible not playing next week,” Arians said – but there seemed to be hope after closing the season with a pair of NFC West road wins. The Cardinals have won six straight division road games.

“I believe it can carry some weight going into the next season,” cornerback Patrick Peterson said.

Will Fitzgerald be around to take part in all that? His touchdown catch was his first score since Week 5 in San Francisco, and it was his 107th reception of the season, which should give him the NFL title in that category. Fitzgerald shrugged that off, reiterating that since the Steelers’ Antonio Brown (106 catches) didn’t play Sunday, there would be an asterisk.

The catch might’ve meant more than a receptions title though. It might’ve been the final catch of Fitzgerald’s sooner-than-later Hall of Fame career. That decision of whether Fitzgerald will play in 2017 or not won’t come for weeks, and he certainly wasn’t reflecting Sunday.

“I’m always staying in the moment,” Fitzgerald said.

All the Cardinals did Sunday, which meant a defense focusing on domination of a very bad Los Angeles offense. The Rams (4-12), who will get a new coaching staff in the offseason and who had rookie Jared Goff at quarterback, never had a chance.

The Cardinals (7-8-1) sacked Goff seven times, led by linebacker Markus Golden’s 2½. Golden finished the season with 12½, the most for a Cardinal since Bertrand Berry had 14½ in 2004, and he teamed with Chandler Jones (1½ Sunday, 11 on the season) to be the first Cardinals teammates since 1984 to each have double-digit sacks.

Cornerback Justin Bethel had a 68-yard touchdown return of an interception, and rookie safety Harlan Miller added a 52-yard return on his own pick. The Rams, meanwhile, generated only 122 net yards of offense.

“Can’t say enough about the defensive front,” Arians said.

Johnson’s injury meant he fell short of becoming the first player in NFL history to reach 100 scrimmage yards in all 16 games of a season. Johnson’s last game featured six rushing yards on five carries, and 38 receiving yards on three catches. But Kerwynn Williams filled in, gaining 60 yards rushing to outgain Rams running back Todd Gurley by 20.

“It’s hard to see someone go down, especially someone who is accomplished so much this season and worked so hard,” Williams said. “He’s definitely the backbone of the team.”

Johnson returned to the sidelines in a brace and sweatpants after halftime, smiling at times and interacting with his teammates, which Williams called “a huge boost.”

Quarterback Carson Palmer rallied from an early interception to throw for 255 yards and three touchdowns. None will be as memorable as the one to Fitzgerald – if Fitz does indeed decide to call it a career.

Fitzgerald hadn’t even been in the game in a number of plays at that point. But on third-and-goal from the 5, he was wide open on a slant to close his day with a fifth catch for 43 yards. Fitzgerald finished with 1,023 yards.

Whether he’ll hear the “Lar-RY” chants again in 2017 – and whether Fitzgerald, noted world traveler, can be part of the optimism the team already feels for next season – is yet to be known.

“I approach the offseason the same every time,” Fitzgerald said with a smile. “Jet-setting time.

“Where’s Waldo?”

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