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Minnesota Awaits, So Larry Fitzgerald Will Play

Posted Nov 17, 2016

Wide receiver pushes through injuries, which helps Cardinals on multiple levels

Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, dealing with various injuries, will play for the fifth time in his home state of Minnesota Sunday.

Larry Fitzgerald, as he has for each time before, shrugs off the Cardinals’ latest journey back to his home state of Minnesota for a game as nothing more than a “business trip.”

The Pro Bowl wide receiver has never won in four regular-season visits, although he said that doesn’t really bother him.

“It would bother me if I played for the Vikings, if I hadn’t won a game there,” Fitzgerald said, laughing. “It’s not like I have a big body of work there.”

Fitzgerald would like to change that Sunday. He’ll get that chance despite being noticeably banged up. He sprained an ankle in Carolina before the bye. Last week, he was submarined by 49ers safety Jimmie Ward on a hit that left him with an MCL sprain and Ward said postgame Fitzgerald told him during the game something had torn.

Fitzgerald waved off the maladies Thursday, noting he practiced full and would be playing against the Vikings. Of this coach Bruce Arians had been certain back on Monday, saying it would be “shocking” if Fitzgerald missed a game in his hometown.

“It’s just a mentality Fitz has,” said fellow wide receiver Michael Floyd, himself a Minnesota native. “He doesn’t want to let anyone down. That’s the whole thing. He can play through it. It might hurt, but at the end of the day he’s going to perform for his teammates.”

Fitzgerald, somewhat quietly, is having another excellent year. After setting a career-high with 109 catches a season ago, Fitzgerald has 68 already this season, second in the NFL only to the 69 by Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown. That pace would easily surpass last year’s total. He has a team-best 687 yards receiving and five touchdowns.

Even with Floyd coming off his best game of the season and John Brown healthier, not having Fitzgerald for a game would be a major blow to the Cardinals.

Not that it was ever a doubt this week. Not to Fitz.

[READ: LARRY FITZGERALD'S MINNESOTA LOVE AFFAIR]

“This is Week 11 in the National Football League,” the 33-year-old Fitzgerald said. “If you’re playing a lot … you’re not 100 percent, is what I’m telling you. That’s just part of the deal.

“I can’t think of one year where something wasn’t bothering me, from a broken finger, to an ankle to tightness in the hammies. Something is always going to bother you.”

Always more of a lead-by-example kind of guy – it’s never bothered Fitzgerald when he doesn’t wear the captain’s “C” – he dismissed the idea he inspires teammates by playing through injuries. Except that’s exactly what happens.

“It’s a violent sport,” cornerback Justin Bethel said. “But Larry knows how much of a leader he is to this team, and he knows, even if he is going through something, how much it means to us to see him out there.

“It’s, ‘Hey man, I want to be out here with you boys, I want to play for you boys. I’m going to keep bleeding for you.’ ”

Nine catches in his hometown will move Fitzgerald into fifth in the NFL all-time, surpassing Tim Brown. He needs 133 yards – his season-high that he got last game – to surpass Andre Johnson for 10th all-time.

“If I was voting for the Hall of Fame, he’d get my vote every time,” Vikings coach Mike Zimmer said.

Fitzgerald, who knows his career is winding down sooner rather than later, said he hasn’t given any thought of whether this could be his last game in Minnesota. He noted there is still a chance the Cardinals could play there in the postseason, and the Cardinals will also play there in 2017 if they finish in the same NFC West spot as the Vikings do in the NFC North.

The Super Bowl after the 2017 season will also be in Minnesota, although Fitzgerald said with a smile, “I prefer to go to Houston.”

That’s where the Super Bowl is this season.

The Cardinals will need lots of Fitzgerald – in Minnesota and everywhere else – to have a chance to make that happen.

“The guy loves football,” offensive coordinator Harold Goodwin said. “He never wants to come off the grass.”

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