Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald braces for a collision against the 49ers last weekend.
Larry Fitzgerald has been waiting for this, to get back to the playoffs. The wide receiver just happens to be returning to the playoffs at a very different time in his career than the last opportunity.
In the Cardinals' back-to-back NFC West winning seasons of 2008 and 2009, Fitzgerald was at the peak of his powers, manhandling defensive backs especially in the Cardinals' magical Super Bowl run after the 2008 season. Fitzgerald still led the
Cards in receptions this season (63, despite missing two games), but he had his third straight season with less than 1,000 yards receiving.
His contract and a $23 million salary cap number for 2015 will likely be needed to be dealt with by early March.
Yet Fitzgerald was having a good time Wednesday, joking with reporters on some non-answers and relishing a trip to the postseason for the first time in five seasons.
"After the first (playoff trip), you really appreciate how hard it is to get there," Fitzgerald said. "Sometimes the ball just has to bounce your way. There are just a lot of things that have to go into you making a deep playoff run. After that first one, went my fourth year, got back the next year, it was even a harder road, everyone knew you were the defending NFC champions and they wanted to knock you off."
The intensity is greater, Fitzgerald said, as is the physical play and the urgency.
"It's one and done," Fitzgerald said. "You lose a game, the season is complete, you are packing up your lockers and nobody wants that."
The end of the season also means a crucial time for Fitzgerald's time with the Cardinals. While General Manager Steve Keim recently said Fitzgerald's cap number was “baked in” to the Cards' 2015 budget, the reality is carrying such a huge cap number would hamper the team's ability to make many offseason moves.
Fitzgerald – who acknowledged before the season the cap number would have to be dealt with -- is trying not to think about that right now. Asked on New Year's Eve if he had any resolutions for 2015, Fitzgerald smiled.
"Try to win a Super Bowl," he said. "That would be nice."
BOWLES INSISTS HEAD COACHING TALK NO DISTRACTION
It seems like everyone in the NFL world is talking about defensive coordinator Todd Bowles as a head coaching candidate, and
every team with a job opening – five of them – reportedly want to talk to Bowles.
"That's what my coaches tell me," Bowles said.
But he and coach Bruce Arians have discussed a plan of action for next week – which is the earliest Bowles can interview for any job – if the Cardinals remain alive in the playoffs. Until then, Bowles insisted it's not a thought.
"We're trying to focus on the game," Bowles said. "You separate it. You've got a playoff game. That's the number one thing going on."
STANTON, DAN WILLIAMS SIT OUT
Arians said quarterback Drew Stanton (knee) would have to practice by Thursday to have a chance to play Saturday against the Panthers. Stanton is now down to one practice to make that happen, after he sat out again Wednesday.
Defensive tackle Dan Williams (foot) also sat out practice.
Guard Jonathan Cooper (wrist/knee) and defensive end Frostee Rucker (ankle) were the only Cardinals limited.
For the Panthers, backup quarterback Derek Anderson sat out because of illness, and guard Fernando Velasco missed practice for something not injury-related. Safety Thomas DeCoud was limited.
TWO SIGNED TO FUTURE CONTRACTS
The Cardinals have signed two players to contracts for the 2015 season: Cornerback Rashad Carmichael and guard Antoine McClain. They will be part of the 90-man offseason roster.
Carmichael was a fourth-round pick of the Texans in 2011 and played in 13 games for Philadelphia in 2013. He was released by Philadelphia earlier this season. McClain, a one-time undrafted rookie, has spent time with the Saints, Bears, Ravens, Raiders and Bills.
VELDHEER, FOOTE GIVEN PFWA AWARDS
Left tackle Jared Veldheer was named the Cardinals' most valuable player by the Arizona chapter of the Pro Football Writers of America. Linebacker Larry Foote was named the team's "Good Guy," for his thoughtfulness and accessibility in dealing with the media.
The MVP award is named after Lloyd Herberg, who covered the Cardinals for The Arizona Republic from 1988 until his death in 1994. The Good Guy award is named after Steve Schoenfeld, who covered the Cardinals and the NFL for The Arizona Republic from 1988 to 2000. Schoenfeld was killed by a hit-and-run driver in 2000.