“Near” plays to Larry Fitzgerald Sunday in New Orleans could be found.
That 47-yard flea-flicker bomb to tight end Charles Clay was originally supposed to go to Fitzgerald, quarterback Kyler Murray said. And then there was the fade pass Murray dropped into Fitzgerald’s hands in the end zone, only to have Fitzgerald unable to get his second foot down before going out of bounds.
Actual receptions as of late have been a little more difficult for Fitzgerald.
After opening the season with back-to-back 100-yard games, Fitzgerald has just three receptions for 20 yards in the last two games. There was significant weather problems two games ago in New York, but against the Saints, Fitzgerald was targeted just four times, catching two for only eight yards.
“They come, they come, and I catch it,” Fitzgerald said. “They don’t, they don’t. Keep it moving. I don’t really lose any sleep over anything. Like I told you earlier, I work hard to keep an even keel. The plays that come my way, I need to make. The one last week in the end zone, I wish I would’ve been able to get my foot down. That would’ve been a decisive play and swing momentum in a positive way.”
Fitzgerald isn’t going to complain. He never has, just like he didn’t get over the top in his analysis of his hot start in September. The two-game lull has dented the pace he had been on for a 1,000-yard season.
“We’re not throwing it 50 times like we were in that stretch when we were down a bunch, and that has something to do with it,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said. “We’ll continue to try and find ways to get him the football.”
The 49ers have the best pass rush in the league, and throwing the ball against them can come with consequences. They are also the top-ranked pass defense in the NFL.
Then again, the Cardinals aren’t sure what they can get out of the running game, given their injuries in the backfield and the reality that their backs are Kenyan Drake, Zach Zenner and Alfred Morris – none of whom were on the roster eight days ago.
“You don’t want to get into one of those games where you’re passing it 50 times, especially when you’re playing against fronts like we’re playing against this week,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s not good for anybody.”
Christian Kirk came back from his ankle injury with a flourish, but the rest of the receiving corps is trying to regain its footing. KeeSean Johnson has fallen behind Trent Sherfield on the depth chart, Damiere Byrd has been quiet and Andy Isabella can’t find his way into the rotation.
Then there is Fitz.
Murray smiled when asked about throwing the ball to the vet – “He makes you feel like you should go to him” – but, in the case of the flea-flicker, the best laid plans can change.
“If the read takes me there (to Fitz), it takes me there,” Murray said.
Kirk has been around Fitzgerald long enough to know there won’t be whining, although Kirk said Fitzgerald has earned the right to have the mentality that he should get the ball more often.
“He does a great job being poised in the room and never acting out of character,” Kirk said. “He could easily come to the sideline, rip his helmet off, rip his chinstrap off. But he knows we’re working through whatever and when the opportunity comes, he’ll make it.”
Monday was the one-year anniversary of Fitzgerald’s late-game spike against the 49ers, a rare showing of post-score emotion from the veteran. Fitzgerald wasn’t thinking much about that this week, saying Monday all he did was try and rest his body for a short-week game.
Maybe Fitzgerald will have a chance to spike it again against the 49ers.
“If I get one target or I get 10, I need to make the most of it,” Fitzgerald said.