The young quarterback and young coach learned quickly that leaning on the old man in Arizona pays off.
Veteran receiver Larry Fitzgerald ignited the offense with several big catches down the stretch as the Cardinals salvaged a 27-27 tie against the Lions in the regular season opener on Sunday at State Farm Stadium. The passing game started with some hiccups during the debut of rookie signal-caller Kyler Murray and first-time NFL coach Kliff Kingsbury, but Fitzgerald helped straighten it out.
The 36-year-old finished with eight reception for 113 yards and caught the game-tying 4-yard touchdown pass with 43 seconds remaining in regulation. Fitzgerald has been the oldest wideout in the NFL for multiple years now but continues to stiff-arm Father Time.
“His bones don’t get old,” wide receiver Trent Sherfield said. “He’s drinking some special milk. I need some of that special milk when I get to be his age.”
Fitzgerald led the Cardinals in receiving a season ago, but his yards per catch of 10.6 was one of the lowest marks of his career. He was sent deeper downfield by Kingsbury in the opener and came up with some critical receptions.
He had a 41-yard grab that led to a Zane Gonzalez field goal early in the fourth quarter, and added an incredible 45-yard diving catch in overtime.
“I still feel like 50-50 balls, I can still make my fair share of plays on those,” Fitzgerald said. “If given the opportunity, I’m going to make some plays. I pride myself on that.”
The Lions had pretty good coverage on most of the passes but it didn’t matter.
“He’s a Hall of Famer for a reason,” Lions defensive back Tracy Walker said. “He made a lot of great catches. I was in good position, but he just made a better catch. I can’t really do nothing about that.”
Like the rest of the offense, Fitzgerald started slowly, catching only two balls for nine yards through three quarters. But his long reception in the fourth seemed to ignite the crowd, and Fitzgerald didn’t slow down from there.
“He just made play after play after play,” Kingsbury said.
A fellow 36-year-old smiled in the Cardinals’ locker room after the game while discussing Fitzgerald’s day.
“I’m glad he’s on my team and I don’t have to play him anymore,” outside linebacker Terrell Suggs said.
Murray showed some good chemistry down the stretch with running back David Johnson and wide receivers Christian Kirk, Damiere Byrd and KeeSean Johnson, but he knows now what so many quarterbacks have learned through the years: when in doubt, throw it to Fitzgerald.
“The man’s still got it,” Murray said.
Images from the first game of the year on Sunday afternoon at State Farm Stadium