GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald took a back pass from Josh Rosen, shuffled a couple of steps right and set his feet.
Arizona’s all-time leading receiver cocked his right arm back and let a not-quite-a-spiral fly into the desert air. The ball landed softly into the hands of Cardinals running back David Johnson, hitting him stride for a 32-yard touchdown.
The Cardinals may have lost 31-9 to the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, but Fitzgerald added another highlight as Arizona fans celebrated what could be the final home game of his storied 15-year career.
“It’s awesome,” Rosen said. “This town loves Larry, he’s an unbelievable player. The fans were looking for something positive and that was a fun one.”
Fitzgerald hasn’t decided if he will return for a 16th NFL season and the Cardinals still have one game left, next Sunday at Seattle.
Arizona’s first season under Steve Wilks was a huge disappointment, possibly sending the Cardinals (3-12) toward a coaching search for the second straight season by New Year’s Eve.
Amid one of the worst seasons in franchise history, Fitzgerald showed he’s still got it, even at 35.
Entering Sunday’s game, Fitzgerald was Arizona’s leading receiver with 59 catches for 645 yards and five touchdowns. He caught six passes for 62 yards against the NFC West champion Rams (12-3), extending his streak of games with a catch to 226 straight — second all-time to Jerry Rice’s 274.
Fitzgerald holds the NFL record for catches with one team and is third all-time overall with 1,299. He’s second all-time with 16,243 yards.
Fitzgerald also is one of the most respected players in the NFL and in Phoenix sports history, both on the field and off.
“I can’t really speak enough about Larry, not only what he brings to this organization, but to the shield itself, the National Football League,” Wilks said. “Just a true pillar of this league.”
Arizona’s home finale felt like the end of the line for Fitzgerald, even if he hasn’t made a decision yet.
Fitzgerald stood alone in the Cardinals’ inflatable helmet at the end of pregame introductions and ran onto the field to the first of many chants of “Larry!” from the home crowd.
Throughout the game, the video boards showed highlights of Fitzgerald’s career to the Christmas-inspired song “Twelve Days of Fitzmas.”
The Cardinals kept his receptions streak alive by targeting him early and often. Fitzgerald then did something he had never done before, lofting his first career TD pass into the hands of Johnson, setting off another “Larry!” chant.
“It was a great throw. He threw it up there,” Johnson said. “I didn’t have to slow my stride or anything.”
The Cardinals had the Fitz pass in the playbook most of the season, insisting it wasn’t put in just because this might have been his final home game.
Even so, when Fitzgerald came to the sideline after his first TD pass, offensive coordinator Byron Leftwich got a massive chest bump from the veteran receiver.
“I guess it’s like a layup in basketball; you can’t miss,” said Fitzgerald, 2 for 4 for 53 yards career passing. “I just wanted to put a little air under it. It came out a little wobbly, like (former teammate) Kurt Warner’s ball. But, like Kurt Warner’s ball, it was effective.”
As the clock wound down on another Cardinals’ defeat, the few remaining fans started a chant “Larry!” — maybe for the final time.
When it was over, Fitzgerald found himself surrounded by photographers, following his every move as Rams players and coaches lined up to congratulate him on the field.
Even after 60 minutes of pounding each other, the respect was there for one of the greatest receivers — and people — in NFL history.
“I play a team sport. I’m not Michael Phelps or Tiger Woods. Those guys do individual things,” Fitzgerald said. “Everything I’ve done has been in the context of a team setting. It’s a little uncomfortable to be singled out. There’s 11 guys with me and I wouldn’t be able to do my job without every single guy doing it. It’s cool, but still, you never get used to that.”
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