GLENDALE, Arizona: Lions-Cardinals Final Thoughts – Appreciating Cardinals star Larry Fitzgerald; four keys for the Lions; Random Thoughts on trick plays, breakout game for Stafford and more, and sticking with my pick:
Larry Fitzgerald doesn't catch passes in bunches the way he used to, but on a given play – especially a big one – he's a player who has to be watched.
That goes for the Lions, who don't want to get burned by Fitzgerald the way the Packers were last week.
And it goes for fans, who should cherish a chance to see Fitzgerald perform his special brand of athletic artistry.
At 35 and in his 15th season – all with the Cardinals – Fitzgerald's career is winding down. With 47 catches in 12 games, he is far off his production of the last three years, when he went over the 100-catch mark all three years.
But on one key play in the fourth quarter of last week's 20-17 road win over the Packers, Fitzgerald was as good as ever – and as good as anybody.
The Cardinals faced third and 23 at their 12-yard line with 4:23 left and the score tied 17-17. Rookie quarterback Josh Rosen scrambled away from the rush and launched a desperation pass from the six-yard line down the right sideline, where Fitzgerald made a sliding catch at the 44 with Packers safety Eddie Pleasant draped over him.
It was catch 1,281 for Fitzgerald, and he went after the ball with the same intensity and desire as he did on his first catch as a rookie in 2004. It didn't matter that the Cardinals were 2-9 going into the game.
Fitzgerald jumped up and held the ball in the air, showing the officials it was a clean catch – which it was. From there, the Cardinals drove to the winning field goal, then held off the Packers' last drive that ended in a missed field goal attempt.
"If anyone's going to catch this thing, I might as well chuck it up to him," Rosen told reporters after the game.
All-Pro cornerback Patrick Peterson watched from the sideline – with no surprise that Fitzgerald made the catch.
"I've seen that for eight years," Peterson said. "I've seen it in practice – just the way he comes to work each and every day."
And Lions safety Glover Quin, who doesn't want to see a catch like that, said it was another example of what makes Fitzgerald so great.
"That's him," Quin said. "That's his career. He wants to win. He wants to help his team win. At the end of the day, you represent Larry Fitzgerald when you go out on the field. He's known for making those types of catches and being that guy.
"That's what he does."
Four keys today:
Pass rush: Get one on Rosen and force him to react to things he hasn't seen. Don't sit back and assume he'll make mistakes. Force the action.
Pass protection: Chandler Jones is an elite pass rusher, with 12 sacks in 12 games this season and 50 in his last 50 games. He leads one of the NFL's better pass rushes. Don't let him take over the game.
David Johnson: The Cardinals' lack playmakers, but he's one of most versatile backs in the league as a runner and receiver. He can be split wide, with rookie Chase Edmonds lined up in the backfield to put two running backs on the field.
Turnovers: Matthew Stafford has to eliminate the late turnovers that have plagued him this year. He lost a fumble in the fourth quarter against the Rams last week and had two fourth-quarter interceptions on Thanksgiving Day against the Bears.
On trick plays: Teams can't live on them, but that doesn't mean the Lions should only try them when they think they're outmanned by teams like the Rams. Try it early and get an edge.
On Matthew Stafford: I keep expecting him to break out with a big game, but given how things have gone of late that could be 300 yards and two TDs. A big game for Stafford used to be 400 yards and four TDs.
On Glover Quin: I'd like to see him get off the schneid and get an interception. He's never had a season without one in five years as a Lion, with a total of 19. He's been shut out so far.
On 239.3 yards, 14.6 points: That's what the Cardinals are averaging per game, worst in the league in both categories. I want to see if the Lions can keep them close to their average or below it.
Prediction: It's not complicated. The Cardinals have the league's worst offense, and the Lions are favored to win. They should win – and by a point is good enough.
Lions 17, Cardinals 16.