The highlight of the game was Larry Fitzgerald’s catch, his first of the afternoon and 1,282nd of his career, giving him the most receptions with one franchise in NFL history.
As beloved as the wide receiver is, that was a problem Sunday at State Farm Stadium. The reception came with a little more than five minutes to go in the third quarter of a disappointing 17-3 loss to the Detroit Lions, and couldn’t mask the offensive troubles the Cardinals cannot seem to escape.
It wasn’t the record Fitzgerald was feeling when it was over. “My mind,” the veteran said, “is not there.”
“I am just frustrated with the way things turned out,” Fitzgerald said. “We did some good things offensively. We moved the ball, threw it around for some yards, more than we have all season. That is something positive, but we have to be able to muster up more than three points.”
Indeed, the Lions (5-8) backed off enough by the end of the game that the Cardinals (3-10) – unable to build off the previous week’s upset win in Green Bay – still finished with 218 net yards passing, second best this season, and 279 total yards, which, in this offensively challenged season, was still their fourth-best game of the year.
That’s not what the scoreboard showed.
The Cardinals had a new offensive line yet again, starting newcomer Joe Barksdale at right tackle. With Christian Kirk on injured reserve and Chad Williams sitting inactive again, Fitzgerald’s receiving cohorts were two undrafted rookies and a mostly absent J.J. Nelson (four catches all season).
Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen could have a better supporting cast. But he was mostly unable to generate much until late – unless one counts the interception Lions cornerback Darius Slay returned 67 yards for the game’s first touchdown.
“I missed some pretty big opportunities,” Rosen said. “A lot of guys get hung up on the stats in the first half, but there were two or three plays there that I missed that would’ve moved the sticks and gotten all the guys you want to see get your carries, all your guys you want to see (get their) catches.
“Sometimes, when you go three-and-out early, it’s hard to get into any kind of rhythm.”
Fitzgerald, who Rosen said was “doubled pretty aggressively” much of the game, finished with five receptions but the four post-record came with the Lions backing off. Running back David Johnson was targeted 10 times and made eight catches – for a mere 12 yards.
“I know I definitely could have made a couple more guys miss on tackling, but it was just a rough one,” said Johnson, who had 49 yards rushing on 15 attempts.
The Cardinals had 126 yards – and 114 of their net passing yards – in the fourth quarter. Rosen finished 26-of-41 for 240 yards.
The Cardinals allowed only 101 yards passing to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford. They held the Lions to less than four yards a carry. But two sequences did in the Cards. One was the Slay interception, in which the Pro Bowl cornerback said he “baited” Rosen – which Rosen noted as well – into a turning-point score while the Lions nursed a 3-0 lead.
The other was after the Cardinals – stalling at the Detroit 4 and forced to kick a fourth-quarter field goal to pull within 10-3 – allowed the Lions a 75-yard drive in which seven plays were runs and the eighth was a 25-yard pass interference call on safety Budda Baker.
The way the Cardinals’ offense had been functioning, that was the ballgame, despite being the one real divot in the team’s defensive performance.
“We’re a team,” defensive tackle Corey Peters said. “Whenever one side struggles, we’ve got to try and pick each other up, and I was a really disappointed with the way we finished the game (on the Lions’ TD drive.) We’ve got to do a better job to keep it a 10-3 game.”
Three games remain, including a cross-country trip this week to Atlanta before games against the playoff-bound Rams and (probably) Seahawks. Finding more than three points weekly will be imperative.
The players might enjoy watching Fitzgerald’s catch the day after, with an ability to give props to their headed-for-the-Hall-of-Fame teammate. Otherwise, when the offense re-watches the video, it won’t carry with it a whole lot of enjoyment.
“It’ll be a frustrating Monday,” Rosen said, “but a Monday that needs to happen.”
Images from the Week 14 matchup at State Farm Stadium