Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) set a franchise playoff record with his 166 yards Saturday night in the Cardinals' win over the Panthers.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Larry Fitzgerald was asked how he kept getting so open Saturday night.
"I wasn't really that open," Fitzgerald said.
The response drew chuckles. Fitzgerald later amended his statement by saying he had to look at the video, and his awe-inspiring performance in the Cardinals' 33-13 Divisional playoff win over Carolina may have been inevitable no matter what the coverage.
Fitzgerald's eight-catch, 166-yard evening included six receptions for 151 yards in the first half alone, all done with fellow Pro Bowler Anquan Boldin sidelined with a bad hamstring.
"Unbelievable," quarterback Kurt Warner said. "They gave us some favorable situations and we always count on Larry to kick start our offense with the big play. He is our big playmaker and he didn't disappoint us again today.
"You knew with Q not being out there they were going to focus on him and they knew we were going to go to him for big plays and it didn't matter."
His 41-yard catch, over two defenders, sparked on the Cards' first scoring drive. His 29-yard touchdown right before halftime turned out to be the dagger that all but killed the Panthers. His yardage was easily a franchise playoff record, besting Roy Green's 113 yards in a 1983 playoff game.
"When you get into the playoffs, you have to have your best players make plays," coach Ken Whisenhunt said.
After Boldin tested his bad hamstring before the game, Whisenhunt acknowledged he wasn't really close to activating the wideout. It was the fifth game Boldin missed because of injury this season, after missing two games with a facial fracture and two games with a bad shoulder.
But his teammates didn't forget about him, and running back Edgerrin James reminded Boldin late in the game that they won so he'd have another chance to play this season.
"I definitely didn't want last week (against Atlanta) to be my last game," Boldin said. "The guys made me a promise, they told me they would get me another week. They held true to their word."
Boldin said he was hopeful to play in the NFC Championship but acknowledged he would likely proceed like he did this week – day-by-day.
Rookie Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie again showed why he has become the Cards' top cornerback. Drawing the assignment of covering star Panthers wide receiver Steve Smith, Rodgers-Cromartie held Smith to two catches and made a big interception at the Arizona 1-yard line.
"DRC" almost picked a second ball, and his deflection of another pass was intercepted by safety Antrel Rolle.
"The young guy played very well," Smith said of Rodgers-Cromartie. "I am not going to take anything away from him. He played well and did his job. Their whole defense did their job well."
Starting tight end Stephen Spach was the lone injury for the Cardinals, badly spraining his right knee late in the game. Replays showed Spach trying to hold a block on the line of scrimmage when a Panther fell into his leg from behind.
"I don't think I want to see the replay," Spach admitted.
Contact Darren Urban at email@example.com. Posted 1/10/09.