Wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald's fantastic playoff run was capped by an amazing 64-yard catch-and-run touchdown in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
Larry Fitzgerald stands in a half-lit auditorium in the Cardinals' Tempe complex, asked to put the postseason performance he authored -- the greatest ever by a wide receiver in NFL history -- into context.
Instead, Fitzgerald can't help but revert back to the Cardinals' remarkable playoff run itself -- which in some way makes sense, because without the victories, Fitzgerald never would have had a chance to compile such remarkable statistics.
"The whole experience, those five weeks, man, the practices leading up to the game, it was just amazing," Fitzgerald said, shaking his head. "Simply amazing."
Amazing was an easy adjective to attach to Fitzgerald's showing as well. In the Cards' four postseason games, he had 30 catches for 546 yards and seven touchdowns -- all NFL playoff records.
Fitzgerald's talent was undeniable, given that he had 96 receptions for 1,431 yards and 12 touchdowns during the regular season, and was named to his third Pro Bowl in five seasons.
But the playoffs became just that much more.
"We knew he was good," said new Cardinals cornerback Bryant McFadden, who faced Fitzgerald in Super Bowl XLIII while playing for Pittsburgh. "But it's like he took off to a whole other part of the universe the way he was playing."
First came six catches for 101 yards in a Wild Card win over Atlanta, including a stellar flea-flicker touchdown catch between two defenders. Then came eight receptions for 166 yards and a diving score in Carolina. Fitz had three touchdown catches in the first half alone against Philadelphia in the NFC Championship before finishing with nine receptions for 152 yards. And in the Super Bowl, Fitzgerald grabbed six of his seven receptions in the fourth quarter, finishing with 127 yards and two touchdowns and nearly walking away with a title.
A spectacular raising of his game, or was it, as teammate Steve Breaston sees it, just "Fitz being Fitz?"
"I just think the stage was different," Fitzgerald said. "I felt this last year was probably my most consistent in terms of week in, week out putting together solid performances.
"The years (offensive coordinator) Todd (Haley) was here, that's what he always talked about. 'Don't be the yo-yo guy. Be a consistent player, be someone the players and coaches can count on.' I pride myself on that. Throughout the playoffs, that was the most fun time in my life."
Fitzgerald was good against the Falcons, but Anquan Boldin also turned in a 71-yard touchdown catch before getting hurt. It was the Carolina game that set up Fitzgerald's unreal run.
Boldin sat out that game with his hamstring injury, yet the Cards raced to a 27-7 halftime lead in large part because Fitzgerald had six receptions for 151 yards in the first two quarters.
"Q's not playing and they were letting (Fitz) run all over the field free," Breaston said, laughing. "I turned to Q at one point and said, 'I know you're not playing, but I don't know if they know Larry is playing out there.' "
The Eagles insisted the following week they weren't going to let Fitzgerald destroy them in a similar way, and then Fitzgerald scored three TDs by halftime.
The Steelers had a better strategy, holding Fitzgerald down for the first three quarters, but, McFadden said, "Playing against a guy like that, there is only so much you can do to contain him."
Eventually, Fitzgerald got loose, including for the Cards' signature Super Bowl play -- a 64-yard catch-and-sprint after splitting two defenders with a little more than two minutes left in a game. It was a touchdown that looked like it would give the Cardinals an improbable victory.
Even that play provided something impressive from Fitzgerald that had been rarely seen.
"People don't think I can run," Fitzgerald said. "You think of all the catches in my career, I am always catching contested, where I am jumping up and trying to out-leverage somebody for the ball. But if I can catch the ball running -- hey, I ran a 4.44 coming out of college. I can go when I need to go. I was happy to catch that pass running."
Looking back is still not easy for Fitzgerald. Going through his mind after his touchdown was the same that most Cardinals had -- the two-plus minutes that remained on the clock. A championship within reach, but one that never came to fruition.
Losing, though, didn't diminish Fitz's playoff performance for the ages.
"A lot of those playoff catches, he had guys draped over him and he was just making plays," Breaston said. "You did kind of wonder: When was anyone going to stop him?"
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