Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald hauls in a 13-yard touchdown for his 100th catch of the season and a score that broke a TD drought for the Cardinals during a 23-0 win Christmas Eve.
On the first day of Fitzmas, the Cardinals wide receiver gave his team one memorable Christmas Eve.
Whether it was a fitting home finale of a certain Hall of Fame career or just an excellent sendoff for 2017, Larry Fitzgerald still wasn't saying after the Cards' 23-0 win over the New York Giants at University of Phoenix Stadium Sunday. It definitely was about a 34-year-old receiver remaining one of the best in his position in the NFL.
"I don't like to get into that type of thinking," Fitzgerald said of the possibility it was his last home game. "It's a lot bigger than me. It's the Arizona Cardinals, and there are a bunch of guys on this team and I need to be fully engaged in what I am doing.
"That's how I've always approached it, how I played little league football. Stay in the moment always."
The moment was enjoyable. The Cardinals (7-8) dominated the struggling Giants (2-13), and it wasn't all Fitz. The defense continued its late-season surge by coming up with the franchise's first shutout since Dec. 12, 1992, when the Cardinals blanked the – wait for it – Giants. Safety Antoine Bethea had a pair of
interceptions, and a strip-sack by linebacker Deone Bucannon turned into a 21-yard touchdown fumble return for a score by defensive lineman Robert Nkemdiche.
There wasn't an offensive player who wasn't crediting the defense for the win.
But in many ways, the day was about Fitzgerald. It would've been anyway, given that he has not yet decided if he will play another season, but his performance – nine catches for 119 yards and a touchdown -- demanded it.
There was no concerted effort to get Fitzgerald the ball. That's what coach Bruce Arians said, and Fitzgerald, and quarterback Drew Stanton, put back into the lineup this week in place of Blaine Gabbert.
But, Stanton acknowledged, "it was a little bit by design … and (Fitzgerald) kept getting the ball in his hands -- which isn't a bad option."
It was Fitzgerald who hauled in a 13-yard touchdown catch late in the first half, his eighth reception of the game, which finally ended the Cardinals' TD drought. The Cardinals had gone more than 11 full quarters without reaching the end zone, and their absence officially lasted 190 minutes, 34 seconds of game clock time.
Stanton would throw a second touchdown pass on the first possession of the second half, a beautiful 15-yard dart to John Brown. Stanton, who completed 20-of-34 passes for 209 yards, would throw two interceptions that ultimately meant nothing.
"We have the luxury of a good defense," Stanton said.
The Cardinals weren't quite as stingy with the yards as they have been of late, allowing 293 (still below their season average), but the unit forced the Giants to 1-for-14 on third downs and 1-for-4 on fourth downs.
"These last couple of weeks, I've been so proud of my guys, the way they've paid attention to detail," veteran defensive lineman Frostee Rucker said. "Despite the playoff hopes diminishing, they've been true
Fitzgerald, meanwhile, only had one catch in the second half, but by then, his impact was felt.
Fitzgerald surpassed 100 receptions for a third straight season and the fifth time in his career (he has 101 in 2017). He surpassed 1,000 yards for a third straight season and the ninth time in his career (he has 1,101 this season). Fitzgerald became the oldest player in NFL history to achieve a 100-catch, 1,000-yard season.
Oh, and he completed the first pass of his career, a 21-yarder to wide receiver Jaron Brown. (Fitzgerald previously threw incomplete passes in 2013 and 2016 and was sacked on a pass play in 2004.)
"Obviously Drew and Larry have good chemistry," said Arians, who got his 49th win as Cardinals coach, tying Ken Whisenhunt for most victories in franchise history. "Congratulations to (Larry) for another milestone. I don't know if there are any milestones left."
Fitzgerald also made a concentration-heavy 19-yard catch with three Giants around him on a wobbly Stanton throw off a flea-flicker, and was cracking jokes postgame, giving grief to his father sitting in his press conference and noting with a grin that Jaron Brown – in part thanks to Fitzgerald's pass – earned a big contract incentive.
"It was a fun day," Fitzgerald said.
The Cardinals close out the season in Seattle against a Seahawks' team that needs a win to make the playoffs.
"There's our playoff game," Rucker said.
The Cards won't have many of the pieces they planned on having at the beginning of the season against their rival, but they will have a wide receiver that still tops the highlights.
Arians was asked if Fitzgerald's day was a good way to finish out his career at home – assuming, of course, it turns out Fitzgerald decides not to play in 2018.
"I'm not all into all that 'last home game' stuff," Arians said.
The coach paused, and smiled.
"But, yes," he added.
Images from the Week 16 matchup at University of Phoenix Stadium