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Fitzgerald's Downfield Plays

Posted Nov 17, 2011

Notebook: Cards work with Beanie's knee; SF QB Smith rejuvenated

Larry Fitzgerald snares one of his seven catches Sunday, this one to set up the game-winning score.

Larry Fitzgerald, cautious with his image, has worked hard to be seen as the anti-diva at wide receiver.

So when quarterback John Skelton -- while noting that Fitzgerald’s abilities have changed his notion of what “being open” means for Fitzgerald – said that “he also lobbies to say he is always open,” Fitzgerald just smiled.

“I would not deny nor confirm those allegations,” Fitzgerald said. “I plead the fifth. Talk to my lawyer.”

Why wouldn’t he want the ball though, and why wouldn’t the Cardinals want him to have the ball? In Philadelphia, all of Fitzgerald’s talents were on display, from somehow hauling in a pass in between two defenders to grabbing from the air a tipped pass for a touchdown to tracking one directly above his head for the biggest play of the final drive.

The seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns was Fitzgerald’s best game of the year and, given the quality of catches and overall production, probably his best game since an 8-143-1 showing in a “Sunday Night Football” win against Minnesota Dec. 6, 2009.

“I definitely felt like I was in a ‘zone’ during the playoff run (after the 2008 season), the ball felt like it was a beach ball every time it came to me, everything slowed down for me,” Fitzgerald said. “There are times when I have had games like that. But (last week) wasn’t that different than any other game.”

What has seemed to have changed – or at least reverted back to that playoff run – for Fitzgerald is a propensity for big plays. The last two seasons, Fitzgerald had 187 receptions, but only one of at least 45 yards. This season, he already has four among his 45 catches, and that doesn’t include his 37-yarder and 42-yarder in Philadelphia.

He is averaging 17.6 yards a reception, easily the highest mark of his career. While he is on pace for only 80 catches (he has had at least 90 four straight seasons) he is on pace for 1,408 yards, a total he hasn’t reached since 2008.

“Last year we struggled to get the explosive play,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “This year, we’ve had a ton (overall) so that has helped. … We have done a better job of getting him the ball in those situations this year, and he has made a couple of spectacular catches too. It’s just more opportunities this year.”

MANAGING BEANIE

Running back Beanie Wells returned to the practice field Thursday in a limited role after sitting out the previous day thanks to swelling in his sore knee. The swelling wasn’t a surprise; it happens on long plane flights, and Whisenhunt said Wells dealt with it on both the flight to Philadelphia and the way home.

“That was what (Wednesday) was, maintenance,” Whisenhunt said. “I respect Beanie. This isn’t easy. He will have to fight through it and we will have to manage it just so he can go on Sundays.”

For a more expansive injury update, click here.

THE REVIVAL OF ALEX SMITH

The Cardinals will face 49ers quarterback Alex Smith for the seventh time Sunday, although this incarnation of the on-again, off-again QB is the best it has ever been. Smith has a passer rating of 95.8, with 11 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. Better yet, the 49ers are 8-1.

“I really feel like as far as what I’m doing, my preparation and things like that, I don’t feel it’s changed much,” Smith said, adding “I’m not doing anything crazy. In the past, I really felt like a lot of times I tried to make the plays (and) I was forcing plays.”

Niners coach Jim Harbaugh said he doesn’t “have a good answer” for why Smith has been successful, or why Harbaugh believed he would be.

“Why is that?” Harbaugh said. “We’re more consumed with asking questions than we are answering things. Are we good enough to keep winning?”

Harbaugh added, “Any way you would dissect a quarterback or analyze a quarterback, he’s acquitted himself at a high level.”

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