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Larry Fitzgerald endures 0-4 start to his 15th NFL season

October 4, 2018
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FILE - In this Sunday, Sept. 23, 2018, file photo, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald pauses on the field prior to an NFL football game against the Chicago Bears in Glendale, Ariz. Fitzgerald says it's the wins that keep him playing in the NFL. If that's true, it must have been a pretty miserable first month to his 15th pro season. (AP Photo/Ralph Freso, FIle)

TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — Larry Fitzgerald has been on many bad teams in his 15 years with the Arizona Cardinals. This, though, is the first time he’s endured an 0-4 start to the season.

Still, despite a sore hamstring, Fitzgerald soldiers on.

“It’s not difficult at all,” he said after Thursday’s practice. “I’m a creature of habit. This is what I’ve been doing since I was 6 years old at this time of year. I don’t look at it like it’s any different. I prepare the same way every single week. There are some good weeks and some bad weeks. That’s the way it goes.”

While coach Bruce Arians and quarterback Carson Palmer retired after last season, Fitzgerald chose to come back.

But he’s been part of an offense that has been the worst in the NFL. With career statistics that rank among the best in the game, Fitzgerald has 15 catches for 141 yards through four games. That puts him on pace for 60 catches this season, which would be his fewest since his rookie season.

By comparison, Fitzgerald matched his franchise record with 109 catches, second-most in the NFL, for 1,156 yards and six TDs a year ago. He has 325 receptions over the past three years, including an NFL-best 107 in 2016 and 109 in 2015.

But this is a new offense under coordinator Mike McCoy, who says he wants to get the ball to Fitzgerald more as the Cardinals prepare for Sunday’s game at San Francisco.

Fitzgerald is the unquestioned leader of an otherwise very young group of receivers. He doesn’t plan on changing anything.

“You’ve got to stay the course, lead by example,” he said. “This doesn’t feel nearly as bad as starting 4-0 and dropping eight in a row (which happened in 2012). And so there’s always been worse scenarios. Obviously, we’re frustrated. We know we have to play better.”

Fitzgerald has 2,169 career yards receiving against the 49ers, the most he has against any opponent. In NFL history, only Jerry Rice has more yards against a single opponent.

“We’ve got a great opportunity this weekend,” Fitzgerald said. “This is a team that we’re familiar with in terms of personnel and what they do schematically. So there’s no better opportunity than the present one.”

Fitzgerald said that, despite the offense’s problems, McCoy “has done a great job.”

“It doesn’t matter what the call is honestly,” Fitzgerald. “It’s the players who are executing. We have to do a better job.”

Fitzgerald and the rest of the Cardinals’ offense are encouraged by the emergence of rookie Josh Rosen at quarterback. Rosen had a strong debut in his first start in Sunday’s 20-17 loss to Seattle, even though he had five passes dropped, two uncharacteristically by Fitzgerald.

Rosen’s ability to make plays downfield should open up the mid-range passing that is Fitzgerald’s forte at this point in his career.

“I think it opens up for everybody,” Fitzgerald said, “the running game, the intermediate passing game and obviously the chunk shots. We had some good chunk plays last week. Hopefully, we can continue to build on that.”

Asked if he wants to be a bigger part of the offense, with more targets, Fitzgerald just shrugs the question off.

“I’m never one to complain or ask for anything. If it comes my way, it comes my way,” he said. “I’m not going to lose any sleep.”

Fitzgerald has been effusive in his praise of Rosen.

“Even before he was starting he took a leadership role. He’s taken leadership a long time ago,” Fitzgerald said. “This is his team. He’ll be the guy here for the next 10-plus years, God willing. I love the way he’s kind of taken the reins, is vocal, lets people know exactly what he wants. He wants the best out of everybody.”

Rosen has said he wants to talk Fitzgerald into playing beyond this season.

When told about that, the 35-year-old receiver just smiled.

“Hopefully, I’ll be one of his biggest cheerleaders,” Fitzgerald said.

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