Wide receiver Michael Floyd makes his 11-yard catch during the Cardinals' game-winning drive last weekend.
Larry Fitzgerald always expects to play.
Normally, that's automatic, but not so much when the Pro Bowl wide receiver is battling a hamstring injury. He did the same thing last week prior to playing against the Detroit Lions, and found himself coming out of the game for good as the fourth quarter began.
But in a league in which clichés reign, the Cardinals found out that "next man up" wasn't hollow lip service. It actually was provided tangible evidence.
A Fitz-less offense drove 61 yards for the game-winning touchdown with 1:59 left, a one-yard run by running back Rashard
Mendenhall that provided coach Bruce Arians with exactly the kind of example he wanted.
"It gives (the players) great confidence that it's not B.S. when you say, 'The next man up,' " Arians said. "It's real. It's going to happen again. Somebody else is going to get hurt. We're not going to play with the same 22 guys, and it's going to happen during a ball game, and that guy has to be ready.
"(Wide receiver) Kerry (Taylor) was ready, and that just throws gasoline to the fire that I feed all the time about when your opportunity comes. I always start OTAs with the Wally Pipp story, (to) make the best of it."
Fitzgerald isn't going to be Pipp-ed anytime soon, and it wasn't just Taylor who played well in the fourth quarter. In fact, the Cards used five different weapons on the final drive, and Taylor wasn't one of them. Rookie running back Andre Ellington had a 16-yard gain, Mendenhall had a pair of rushes – including the touchdown – and Alfonso Smith had a carry. Michael Floyd had a first-down catch while Andre Roberts drew the 31-yard pass interference to set up the score.
The step forward by the offense went beyond just the final drive, though.
"As a competitor you want to be on the field but you like to see guys get rewarded for their hard work," Fitzgerald said. "It's only good for our team."
The Cardinals already went through one stunning offensive loss this season when starting guard Jonathan Cooper was lost for the season with a broken leg. But to have a player like Fitzgerald – not only productive but often the focal point of the defense – leave a game can throw a team for a loop.
"Anytime you lose one of your playmakers, especially a player of his caliber, it makes it more difficult on the entire team," quarterback Carson Palmer said. "There are a handful of balls and catches or plays that he'll make and you know that he'll make week in and week out. When you take those away, obviously, you lose some yardage, you lose some production. But, someone else will step up in his place."
That's the idea. Floyd already was being groomed to become more of a threat in the offense, and he talked of the notion of being ready at all times. If Fitzgerald – or Floyd, for that matter – were to go out, it just means more chances for the others.
Palmer acknowledged having a key player in injury limbo isn't ideal. If someone was going to have to sit, Palmer said he'd prefer to get a lot of work with the replacement during the week to create some timing and chemistry.
That's a little harder when a player leaves mid-game, like Fitzgerald did, but then again, it couldn't be helped.
"We are fortunate we have playmakers all over," Ellington said. "When our key guys go down, they are looking at us to make those plays. We can't let them down."