Cardinals wide receiver Early Doucet rumbles 25 yards with a screen pass against the Rams last weekend in a 31-10 victory.
Never have two receptions seemed to have meant so much.
Especially to Early Doucet.
Doucet's 18-yard touchdown catch last week created spontaneous joy from the Cards' top three receivers – Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston – as they piled on their protégé.
His 25-yard catch-and-run on the screen pass had to give hope to the front office that Doucet, if things don't work out long-term with Boldin, can fill a role Boldin has turned into an art form.
Both receptions provided confidence for both quarterback Kurt Warner and the coaching staff that Doucet could come through.
And for Doucet, "(The plays) gave me that feeling I am starting to be that player they knew I am capable of being. The one they drafted."
Fully judging Doucet, 2008's third-round pick, remains impossible. He sprained his shoulder early in training camp, missing much of the work in Flagstaff for a second straight year. When he came back, he hurt his ribs in the third preseason game, killing any progress and putting him well behind the rest of the receiving corps.
"He showed some signs and then he got hurt and essentially disappeared," Whisenhunt said.
He wasn't active for a game until midseason, when he was Boldin's replacement in Chicago, the weekend Boldin was upset for being kept out with an ankle injury. Boldin returned the next week (and has played like a Pro Bowler since), but Doucet never left the lineup, usurping Jerheme Urban's spot on game days.
As the fourth receiver, opportunities are limited, especially once the Cards began running the ball more effectively and using fewer four-receiver sets. But Doucet stayed patient. His career, which looked so promising the day he was drafted, was bogging down – yet Doucet insists he has never worried it will flame out.
"I don't ever doubt myself to that point," Doucet said. "I have a strong faith in God and He always test you. Those lows I had was just a test. He has a plan for me, and each week over these last few weeks He's given me a chance to see the light."
At some point, the Cardinals had to figure out what Doucet's future held. Urban is a free agent after the season, and Boldin's future remains in flux.
"The jury is still out on him," Whisenhunt said. "He works hard and makes plays in practice.
"Like a lot of our young players, and it seems like that list is getting bigger and bigger whether it is Calais Campbell or Steve Breaston or Tim Hightower, guys are earning opportunities and they are starting to take advantage of those opportunities."
Doucet has 13 catches for 186 yards, but it was the two Sunday that grabbed the attention.
His screen-and-run was impressive, showing off the strength and speed Doucet can bring in a package, something many have looked for when he was drafted and compared – at least in body type – to Boldin. But his touchdown catch was the highlight, something Fitzgerald, Boldin and Breaston have been preparing for perhaps as long as Doucet himself.
Fitzgerald tackled Doucet in celebration when Doucet crossed the goal line.
"We all really were really pushing and pushing, 'When are you going to get in there? What dance are you going to do?' " Fitzgerald said. "I told him 'I don't care what dance you're going to do, as soon as you get in there, I'm tackling you and we'll all celebrate together,' because we all know how hard he worked. Early getting in the end zone not only meant a lot to him but also to all the rest of the guys in the (receiving) corps."
Doucet said it was the perfect way to enjoy his first NFL touchdown, and perhaps also a harbinger for the future.
"I had the injuries early on and gave people doubts whether I was durable enough," Doucet said. "I think I have been working hard to get to this point. Having guys like Fitz and Q and Steve standing by my side and pulling for me makes it even better."
Whisenhunt said kicker Neil Rackers (groin) will play Sunday. The rest of the banged-up Cards – including safety Antrel Rolle, who missed practice again Friday with his sore thigh – will be game-day decisions based on whether the Cards will still have a chance to get the No. 2 seed and a first-round playoff bye.
"It's irritating," Whisenhunt said. "This type (of situation)is irritating, because it is more the unknown. Listen, I am glad we are in this situation because we know we are in the playoffs and all we're doing is working to get a better seed, and that's always a good thing. I'd like to have the two or the one seed already locked up. That's the best.
"But this is different because we're waiting on another game just to see if we even have a chance at the No. 2 seed. That determines a lot of what you do going forward."
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