John "Smoke" Brown is looking forward to seeing his former teammate Larry Fitzgerald Sunday. He also showed that he learned something very important from his mentor.
"I've got to be on the lookout for him," Brown said with a smile, "because he's known for tackling people when they're not looking."
Would Fitz do such a thing? (Of course he would.) The Fitz slo-mo ankle tackle has always been a symbol of his relationships with various people. But Sunday's game against the Bills underscores what Fitz has meant to younger receivers throughout his career. Two of the Bills pass-catchers are Brown, a Cardinals' 2014 third-round pick, and Andre Roberts, a Cardinals' 2010 third-round pick.
Roberts emerged briefly as Fitz's No. 2 while he was with the Cards. He also emerged as one of Fitz's closest friends, eventually being a compatriot on some of Fitz's worldwide travels.
"I think the biggest thing he told me I'll never forget when I got there, he told me to always treat every year like you're a rookie," Roberts said. "I think that's one thing I've kept with me my whole career."
Brown, of course, was a big part of the 2015 team that reached the NFC Championship game. He still texts with Fitz.
"I'm just thankful to have the opportunity to play there and be around one of the great receivers of all-time, who will definitely be a first-ballot Hall of Famer," Brown said. "Not just for on the field issues but learning things off the field. He developed me into a better man in a lot of situations."
Roberts, still friends with Fitz, said he's worked out with current Cardinals wideouts Christian Kirk and Trent Sherfield – "some young guys (Fitz) has taken under his wing and helped them grow." Brown has done with rookie Bills receiver Gabe Davis the same thing Fitz once did with him, inviting him to stay with him for a time in the offseason to show him how to be a pro.
Fitzgerald said he can't be more happy to see Brown's success. And as Fitzgerald maneuvers through his 17th NFL season, it's still clear how much he helps and has helped the Cards, both on the field and with the roster.
"There are a lot of guys who have come through that I have tried to help and for some reason they didn't want to hear it or had their own plan," Fitzgerald said. "Smoke was one of those guys who always asked questions. It makes it worthwhile to know you can try to have a positive influence on guys."
-- Much was made of Kyler Murray's silent anger in the Dolphins' press conference, an understandable result of an ultra-competitive person (and one of the reasons the Cardinals wanted to draft him in the first place.) Murray knows it drew attention. And in another nod to his maturation as a pro, acknowledged dealing with an individual loss is something he is working to improve.
"Well, a loss is a loss," Murray said. "We're not going to be too happy. I don't want to say I've gotten better with it, but I've definitely learned how to see the positives in the game and take the good with the bad. I've got to be positive. I've got to be optimistic. This is a long season. This isn't college football. It's not 'one game and you're done.' You have more opportunities in the league."
-- Between COVID and injuries, the second half of the season is going to be interesting. The Cards look like their secondary will be at full strength – crucial, because we saw what a Budda Baker-less game looks like – but the defensive line is down some people. (Maybe Rashard Lawrence is ready to come off IR Saturday; we'll see.) But the injuries are something to watch. With a short week before a Thursday game against Seattle, and because COVID rules are what they are, it's the players on the roster/practice squad/IR that will have to be the ones who play against the Seahawks. There won't be time to sign anyone had have them cleared to play. The Cards have to hope they stay more or less healthy by Sunday night.
-- One thing that got lost in Murray's magnificent performance against the Dolphins last week was perhaps the hardest hit he's absorbed since getting to the NFL, when Murray tried to take on Dolphins cornerback Byron Jones on a third-down scramble. The two had a hellacious collision, with Murray coming up a yard short of the first down. (Chase Edmonds was stoned for no gain on the fourth down play.) Usually, Murray avoids such confrontations, and Kliff Kingsbury acknowledged he did talk to Murray about being careful.
"That was kind of a 'heat of the moment' type of deal," Murray said. "I don't really plan on doing that too much. Obviously, we're losing, got to make a play, try to win. At the end of the day, that's what it comes down to, trying to win, but at the same time, being smart."
-- Running back Kenyan Drake could play Sunday, if he comes out pregame and looks the part on his recovering ankle. Otherwise, they'll keep him inactive. The question: Is there a way you want to keep him safe for the Seahawks, regardless, so he sits against the Bills? An interesting question.
-- What a huge trade the Markus Golden deal was. You can already see it.
-- Patrick Peterson played coy whether he would follow Bills receiver Stefon Diggs – who leads the NFL in catches and yards – all day Sunday. I'm sure Peterson will do some other things, but in the end, I could see him getting the lion's share of the Diggs work. The Bills love those crossing and drag routes though, which have given the Cards problems.
-- The Cardinals are only the third team ever to have at least 2,000 passing yards and 1,300 rushing yards through eight games, joining the 2011 Eagles and the 1951 Rams. They are still No. 1 in the NFL in total offense. They are No. 6 in scoring (29.3 points a game.) There are times when people will rightfully wonder about a play or playcall here or there, but it is indisputable that the Kingsbury-Kyler connection is working.
-- If the Cards score at least 21 points, it'll be the 12th straight game to accomplish that, setting a franchie record. Methinks they'll need a lot more than 21 against the Bills. This sure feels like a shootout waiting to happen. Maybe Fitz can show his Bills understudies some things, like his first touchdown of the year,.
See you Sunday.