The Cardinals do not travel to New England often. When they do – heck, when they travel anywhere – Larry Fitzgerald is there.
Not this time. Not when you’re on the COVID reserve list, where Fitz found himself this week.
“In my mind Larry is invincible,” tackle D.J. Humphries said. “When I heard it was Fitz, it was definitely a bigger surprise. I can’t think of the last time, I don’t know the last time – I don’t know if anyone can, some of you (media) have been around a lot longer than I have – we got on a plane and Larry wasn’t on the plane with us.”
The last time Fitzgerald didn’t play in a game was 2014, when he missed back-to-back road trips to Seattle and Atlanta because of a knee injury. Both those games were losses (although to be fair, the Cards were also without starting QB Carson Palmer at that point in the season after Palmer’s ACL tear.)
But, even though that was before Humphries was a Card, he was right in the scenario that Fitz was (likely) on those trips. (Fitzgerald has always traveled even if hurt, if I recollect correctly; I will admit I do not have the manifests to double-check.) Fitz has only missed six games in his entire 17-year career. Four of those total were road games (the other two were in 2006, a lifetime ago.)
Fitz probably doesn’t have the fondest recollections of New England visits anyway. In 2008, he did have a 78-yard touchdown catch in the snow, the lone thing of note in the infamous 47-7 loss prior to the Super Bowl run. In 2012, the Cardinals pulled off the upset victory, but Bill Belichick’s defense clamped down on Fitz so he could make only one catch for 4 yards.
Fitzgerald is obviously not the same player he was in 2008 or 2012. He’s the third receiving option most games behind D-Hop and Christian Kirk (although he did have his best game of the season in Seattle the last game, with eight catches for 62 yards.) But that doesn’t mean missing Fitz isn’t missing a big piece. He’s the guy to get you a big first down. He’s the sage veteran who has done a good job of leadership even as his role has diminished. His optimism for this team and the season shined through just Wednesday, when he last talked to the media. Then came the news Thanksgiving morning.
Perhaps a road trip without Fitz was destined for 2020. But it still stings.
— Does Andy Isabella get a bigger role? Technically he’s the one behind Fitz on the depth chart, but Kliff Kingsbury seemed to be less definitive when asked about Isabella’s role and how exactly the Cards will work through the loss of Fitz. Running back Chase Edmonds and tight end Dan Arnold – who started as a wide receiver – are also candidates to help out in such a role. Still, it’d be good to see Isabella make some things happen.
— You need all of Kyler Murray in this one. Running and throwing. I think he plays. I don’t know about lots of running.
— The Cardinals have seen Cam Newton before, a few times, but it’s been a minute. Thanks to Newton’s injuries, the last time the Cards saw him was in the 2016 regular season, when the Panthers beat the Cards at State Farm Stadium. Newton is 2-0 against the Cards in the postseason, including the 2015 NFC Championship game. But that was a long time ago. Newton isn’t the same player, and he definitely doesn’t have the weapons around him right now. You figure they’ll use the 6-foot-6 tank of a man in the run game, and the Cards have to hope their injury-riddled defensive line holds up.
— Newton holds the NFL record for rushing touchdowns in a season for a QB with the 14 he had as a rookie in 2011. Murray was headed for that mark when he reached 10 in nine games, although he was shut out last week and now you wonder a bit about his running with the shoulder issue.
— In the 2019 draft, as the Cardinals’ second-round pick drew near, there was a lot of clamoring for Arizona State wide receiver N’Keal Harry. Instead, the Patriots grabbed him with the final pick of the first round (and the Cards took CB Byron Murphy Jr. and I’m pretty sure they would’ve gone with Murphy even if Harry had still been on the board.) Harry has been off to a bumpy start with the Patriots, dealing with injuries and learning the NFL game. In eight games this season, Harry has 24 catches for only 213 yards – less than an impact you’d think for a team starving for wide receiver playmaking.
— Interestingly, Harry and Murphy are good friends, having prepped close to each other here in the Valley, with Harry at Chandler High School and Murphy at Scottsdale Saguaro. The two were actually teammates early in their high school career at Tempe Marcos de Niza before each transferred. Would be fun if Murphy ends up covering Harry some of the time.
— Speaking of coverage: DeAndre Hopkins versus reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore, also fun to watch.
— One of the pylons from the Hail Murray end zone – autographed by Kyler Murray and D-Hop – has made it to the Hall of Fame.
— Weather should not be a factor. It’s supposed to be sunny and in the low 50s, actually a little warmer than what the Cards dealt with in Seattle.
— Bill Belichick will be a factor. I am fascinated to see how Belichick approaches this game – and how Kliff Kingsbury does going against his former coach and sometimes mentor. You know this means a lot for Kingsbury. Then again, it means a lot for the Cardinals. The Patriots are not a great team this season, and the Cards want to stay breathing in the NFC West race.
See you Sunday.