Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald leaps over Saints cornerback Delvin Breaux after making one of his six catches Sunday.
Larry Fitzgerald had a team-high six catches in the Cardinals' 31-19 victory over the Saints on Sunday, but what about the one he didn't haul in?
The veteran wideout broke free down the field in the third quarter and was an easy pitch-and-catch away from a big gain – and possibly a touchdown -- but pressure forced quarterback Carson Palmer to lead him by too much.
"I'm not 22 anymore," Fitzgerald said. "I need it to be close. He's spoiled throwing it to J.J. (Nelson ) and Smoke (John Brown). He can just
throw it as fast as he wants and those guys will run underneath it."
Even though Fitzgerald's legs may have slowed down, he proved against New Orleans there are other facets of his game which have gotten better with experience. Michael Floyd played sparingly with the three dislocated fingers on his hand, which had Fitzgerald moving around on offense, and he did so seamlessly. The 32-year-old's six receptions resulted in a team-best 87 yards.
The transition wasn't always so smooth in Bruce Arians' first two years running the offense.
"My first eight, nine years, I was extensively outside the numbers," Fitzgerald said. "It's a different world inside. The game is a lot faster. Guys are a lot bigger. When you're getting tackled outside the numbers usually it's a guy you're much bigger than. It's taken me a little time to get used to it, but at this age and the way I'm playing now, I feel like I'm much more of a complete player."
Fitzgerald said his run-blocking has improved – running back David Johnson said Fitzgerald blocked two guys on his late touchdown catch -- and he's not always needed to be a focal point of the passing game these days because the team has a variety of weapons. He's still a receiver first, though, and Fitzgerald said there was an extra pep in his step this week after a quick chat with Arians.
"On Wednesday, Coach, I was walking by him in the hallway and he told me to get ready," Fitzgerald said. "I was excited for the week, the gameplan. I knew I would be involved, and I just wanted to make sure I was doing my job and trying to be active, trying to be a spark for my team today."
FELLS EXCELS AS CONFIDENCE GROWS
Darren Fells was a professional basketball player a couple years ago and in a fight to make the Cardinals' roster last season. With each passing week, he makes himself a more integral part of this club.
Fells took over as the starting tight end late in 2014 and impressed with his blocking skills. Against the Saints, it was his receiving prowess
which stood out. Fells had four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown, compiling the most receiving yards in a game by a Cardinals tight end since Rob Awalt had 105 against the Cowboys on Nov. 12, 1989.
"It's all about knowing the offense," Fells said. "Being a basketball player and knowing absolutely nothing about football and then coming into this year and knowing the offense will help build the confidence."
Fells had a 48-yard gain on a quick slant route early in the contest, and added a 17-yard fourth-quarter score which helped increase the Cardinals' precarious one-point lead to 24-16. He is at the top of a tight end room which also includes former Pro Bowler Jermaine Gresham and 2014 second-round pick Troy Niklas – both of whom played Sunday after battling injuries the majority of training camp.
Arians said it's a group which doesn't get enough credit.
"People worry about our tight end room and I'm like, 'You've got to be kidding me,'" Arians said. "'This is one of the best tight end rooms I've ever been a part of. And that is 20-some years."
BUTLER IMPRESSES AFTER POOR FIRST PUNT
Drew Butler's last meaningful game action was the forgettable playoff performance in Carolina, and his first punt against the Saints was only 30 yards. After that, he turned it up, averaging 42.6 yards per punt and landing a pair inside the 20.
The most important came late in the game when Butler pinned New Orleans at its own 3, as the Saints needed a touchdown to win the game. They went three-and-out and the Cardinals put the game away with Johnson's touchdown catch on their ensuing possession.
MENTAL ERRORS HURT CARDINALS
The Cardinals' biggest mental flub came in the second quarter, when they had 12 men on the field for a punt return. The Saints were facing a fourth-and-3 at the time, so the penalty gave them renewed life, and Brandon Coleman took advantage with a 12-yard touchdown reception to cap the drive.
Arians said there were multiple times the team had too many players on the field during special teams.
"We had about 12 guys out there five times," he said. "That's easy to iron out."
Images from the Cardinals' regular season opener against the Saints