Pro Bowl wide receiver misses Kurt Warner.
By Charean Williams
Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald has all kinds of records to his name. He became the team’s all-time leading receiver this season, and last week, Fitzgerald became the second-youngest receiver to top 8,000 receiving yards. Only Randy Moss reached 8,000 yards faster.
Yet, the only record Fitzgerald is concerned about is his team’s.
“There are certain achievements you try to set year in and year out,” Fitzgerald, 27, said. “I never try to let the circumstances dictate my goals. I worry about the things I know I can control — running the right routes, being where I’m supposed to be, being accountable to myself, my teammates and my fans. Those are the things I work on, and those are the things I can do to help right this ship.”
After back-to-back playoff appearances, and despite playing in the lowly NFC West, the Cardinals are only 4-10 and have been eliminated from postseason contention.
Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said this week that the talent is better than the team’s record.
There is no doubt Fitzgerald is better than his numbers this season.
In the previous three seasons, Fitzgerald averaged 98 catches for 1,311 yards and 12 touchdowns. This season, he has 78 receptions for 986 yards and five touchdowns.
“Larry has played well for us of late,” Cardinals coach Whisenhunt said. “He had a good game last week against Carolina. We’re hoping maybe the quarterback and the receiver are getting into a little bit of a rhythm.”
Fitzgerald misses Kurt Warner. Of Fitzgerald’s 601 career catches, 345 were thrown by Warner.
But Warner retired after last season.
“I miss him a lot,” Fitzgerald said. “He was probably my closest friend on the team. When I was 21, and wet behind the ears, he taught me the game of football. I really miss his friendship more than anything, but obviously as a player, what he brought to us as a quarterback was invaluable. He was one of the best to ever do it.”
The Cardinals’ backup plan was Matt Leinart, whom they had drafted with the 10th overall choice in 2006. But Leinart was released just before the season started, and the Cardinals have started three other quarterbacks since.
Derek Anderson, Max Hall and John Skelton have had little success as Arizona ranks 31st in total offense and 31st in passing offense. Fitzgerald has 49 receptions from Anderson, 16 from Skelton and 13 from Hall.
“Losing Kurt Warner, it was going to be difficult to replace him,” Fitzgerald said. “He’s an unbelievable player. It didn’t matter who was coming in behind him. When the bar is set that high, it’s hard to reach that.”
Worse still, Fitzgerald is facing the prospect of the Cardinals having their worst record since they drafted him in 2004. They were 5-11 in 2005 and ’06.
“It’s been extremely frustrating,” Fitzgerald said. “You have to learn how to win. It’s disappointing we haven’t done that yet, but it’s not going to stay this way. We can’t allow it to stay this way.”
Jackson hitting stride
Fred Jackson took the long road to get here. He was a backup running back in high school who ended up at tiny Coe College in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and reached the NFL as an undrafted free agent.
But after last season’s 1,000-yard season, Jackson has fans all over the league.
“I have as much respect for him as really anybody we’ve played,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick told reporters this week. “He’s outstanding, good at everything, good at blitz pickup, a good outside runner, good inside runner. They use him in the passing game as a receiver, split out and empty and those kinds of things. He’s a very good screen back.”
Jackson couldn’t help but smile at Belichick’s praise.
“Anytime you’re playing this game, you’re playing with the best athletes in the world,” Jackson said. “For someone to recognize you as one of the best in the league we play in, it’s definitely going got to mean a lot to you. It means a great amount to me, coming from where I came from, being at the bottom of the mat, so to speak. I just want to try and continue to make plays and not lose that title as one of the best running backs in the league.
“To have coach Belichick say some of the nice things he said about me — he’s one of the best, if not the best coach in the league — is motivation to keep doing what I’m doing.”
Jackson, who split time with Marshawn Lynch and C.J. Spiller early in the season before Lynch was traded and Spiller was injured, needs 189 yards to reach the 1,000-yard rushing mark again.
“It would mean a lot,” Jackson said, “especially after the slow start I had this year. I wasn’t on the field as much as I would have liked to have been. For me to still go out and get 1,000 yards, I would be a consecutive 1,000-yard back. That’s something to hang your hat on. Hopefully, I can get it done, but most importantly, we’ve got to try to win these last two games.”
Fourth and short
• Rams quarterback Sam Bradford is closing in some rookie records. He needs 20 completions to break Peyton Manning’s rookie record of 326, 59 attempts to pass Manning’s record of 575, and 675 yards to pass Manning’s record of 3,739.
• The Bucs rank 30th in sacks with only 20. Defensive end Stylez White leads the team with 4.5.
• Terrell Owens will end his season on injured reserve for the first time in his 15-year career. It likely ends his one-year stay in Cincinnati. He reached two of the six $333,000 incentives on his contract, earning him $2.67 million for the season. Owens caught 72 passes for 983 yards and nine touchdowns, but he is 37, coming off knee surgery and has history of being a divisive player. So finding another taker might be harder than Owens expects.
• The Bengals are likely to change coaches and have rebuilding to do. Among their offseason decisions is whether to pick up Chad Ochocinco’s $6 million option.
• The Cardinals have several big-money players — quarterback Derek Anderson, linebacker Joey Porter and linebacker Gerald Hayes, who likely won’t return next season. Ken Whisenhunt also is expected to shake up his coaching staff.
• Running back Ray Rice has 1,051 rushing yards. He is the first Ravens’ running back to have back-to-back 1,000-yard rushing seasons since Jamal Lewis had three consecutive from 2002-04. Rice had 1,339 rushing yards last season.
• The Bills, having won four of their past six games, are out of the running for Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck. That means Ryan Fitzpatrick will almost certainly be the Bills’ quarterback in 2011. Buffalo has a number of other needs, beginning at offensive tackle.
• Panthers quarterback Jimmy Clausen snapped a streak of 202 passes without a touchdown pass.
• Browns kickoff returner Josh Cribbs has not been himself this season. Cribbs, who has a career average of 26.0 and has eight return touchdowns, has averaged only 20.8 yards on 32 returns this season with a long of 36 yards. The league average is 22.6 and 21 have been returned for touchdowns.
• The Texans have the worst pass defense (275.1 ypg) in the NFL. They have surrendered 31 touchdown passes compared to 19 in 2009.
• The Colts have won 30 consecutive games in which they did not turn over the football.
• For the fourth time in the past seven seasons, the Jaguars have lost control of their playoff destiny late in the year. They were 8-6 in 2004 when a loss to Houston cost them a playoff spot. In 2006, they were 8-5 and lost their last three. Last year, they were 7-5 and lost their last four.
• Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson has been Pro Bowl good this season. He had 17 tackles last week and leads the team with 112.
• Tony Sparano is signed through 2011, but that doesn’t mean he will be back as the coach of the Dolphins. Sparano is hearing daily rumors about whether Bill Cowher or Jon Gruden or another big name will replace him. Whether Sparano returns, offensive coordinator Dan Henning, 68, is expected to retire.
• Bill Belichick is 175-99 (.639), ranking 10th in all-time victories. He is 160-94 in the regular season and 15-5 in the playoffs.
• The Saints had never had a 4,000-yard passer until Drew Brees arrived as a free agent. He now has his fifth consecutive 4,000-yard passing season, with 4,122 yards. Peyton Manning is the only other quarterback to have five or more 4,000-yard seasons in a row. Manning holds the NFL record with six in a row (1999-2004) and also has a current five-year streak.
• The Vikings signed quarterback Rhett Bomar off the Giants’ practice squad. Bomar, a fifth-round pick of the Giants in 2009, spent most of his NFL career on the Giants’ practice squad.
• Darren McFadden has become the Raiders’ first 1,000-yard back since Lamont Jordan, who had 1,025 rushing yards in 2005. McFadden had only 856 yards in his first two injury-plagued seasons. McFadden is 182 yards shy of Napoleon Kaufman’s 1,294 yards in 1997, the second-biggest season by a Raiders’ runner. Marcus Allen gained 1,759 yards in 1985.
• Eagles right cornerback Dimitri Patterson, who has started only six NFL games, gave up three touchdowns against the Giants. For the season, Patterson has allowed 40 catches for 537 yards and five touchdowns.
• Vincent Jackson might be playing himself into another season with the Chargers. After Jackson’s holdout and general manager A.J. Smith’s refusal to give in on a long-term contract, it appeared Jackson’s days in San Diego were numbered. But Jackson has reminded the Chargers what they missed, with seven catches for 141 yards and three touchdowns.
• The Seahawks have 31 turnovers this season, and a minus-9 turnover ratio, ranking 30th. Quarterback Matt Hasselbeck has 13 turnovers in four games.
• The four teams in the NFC West have a combined record of 21-35. There are eight scenarios that have the division winner at 8-8, and eight scenarios at 7-9.
• Bucs quarterback Josh Freeman is 11-12 as a starter but has won 10 of his past 17 games.
• Randy Moss has only five catches for 62 yards since the Titans claimed him off waivers from the Vikings on Nov. 3. He has not had a pass thrown his way the past two games. But Jeff Fisher said he would make the move again, calling Moss a model player.