Eleventh in a 13-part series on the opponents the Green Bay Packers will face during the 2018 regular season.
GREEN BAY – Larry Fitzgerald, the greatest player in Arizona Cardinals history, enters what will likely be his final leg in 2018.
Amid speculation the All-Pro receiver might retire, Fitzgerald signed a one-year, $11 million contract with the Cardinals before last season concluded. Turning 35 in August, it’s possible — if not likely — the No. 3 overall pick of the 2004 draft will end his career after this season.
Nothing is ever certain until an aging star actually walks away from the game (see: Favre, Brett), but at Fitzgerald’s stage in his career, each season has the possibility of being his last. With 2018 serving as a victory lap for one of the greatest receivers the game has ever seen, it will be interesting to see what reception (no pun intended) Fitzgerald gets when the Cardinals visit the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Dec. 2.
Fitzgerald has been among the NFL’s best-ever receivers in his 14 seasons. His brilliance has left a stamp on most opponents, including the Packers. You remember his overtime rumble through the heart of the Packers defense during that 2015 NFC divisional-round loss.
What NFL fans will remember is Fitzgerald’s historic production. He ranks third all time with 1,234 receptions, behind only Jerry Rice (1,549) and Tony Gonzalez (1,325). His 15,545 receiving yards are also third all time behind Rice (22,895) and Terrell Owens (15,934), and his 110 career touchdowns are eighth. Also impressive is what Fitzgerald did last season, finishing second in the NFL with 109 catches and eighth with 1,156 yards to earn his 10th Pro Bowl in 11 years.
Which serves as a good reminder: Fitzgerald might be entering his last leg, but he hasn’t shown signs of slowing down yet.
Here are three things to know about the Cardinals.
A new era
Fitzgerald returned for one more year, but his longtime partner in the Cardinals' offense called it a career after 2017. Carson Palmer, who joined the Cardinals in his age 34 season and became one of the more successful quarterbacks in franchise history, retired after his 14th season in 2017. He was a Pro Bowler two years prior, but his passer rating had slipped below 90 since and a broken back forced him to miss the second half of last season. Preparing for life after Palmer, the Cardinals were aggressive in the draft. They traded up five spots to select UCLA’s Josh Rosen with the 10th overall pick, placing their hopes in him for the future. The Cardinals also signed Sam Bradford, allowing them to be patient with Rosen’s development.
Next torch bearer
It’s no secret whom the Cardinals expect to lead them into their next era. While Rosen is the quarterback of the future, he’ll no doubt benefit sharing a backfield with running back David Johnson. A third-round pick out of Northern Iowa in 2015, Johnson quickly became one of the NFL’s best running backs. His all-around game was highlighted in 2016 when he recorded 2,118 yards from scrimmage and 20 touchdowns, earning an All-Pro nod. Johnson played only one game last season after a wrist injury that required surgery knocked him out of the opener, but he should be ready for 2018.
On the other side of the ball is cornerback Patrick Peterson, another franchise pillar. Hoping to make a strength even stronger, the Cardinals hired Carolina Panthers defensive coordinator Steve Wilks to succeed Bruce Arians as their head coach. Wilks rose in the profession as a defensive backs coach, leading the secondary for Notre Dame and Washington in the college ranks and the Chicago Bears, San Diego Chargers and Panthers in the NFL over the past 15 years. It’s impossible to know how someone will do as a head coach until the opportunity arrives, but Wilks’ background should mesh well with one of the Cardinals' best players.
Packers schedule glimpse
Dec. 2 vs. Cardinals, noon, Fox.
Week before: at Minnesota, Nov. 25.
Week after: vs. Falcons, Dec. 9.
On the horizon: at Chicago, Dec. 16.
Coach: Steve Wilks (first season).
2017 record: 8-8, third in NFC West.
Scoring offense: 18.4 points per game (25th in NFL).
Total offense: 314.1 yards per game (22nd).
Scoring defense: 22.6 points allowed per game (19th).
Total defense: 310.9 yards allowed per game (6th).
Series: Packers lead 12-6-1 (1-2 playoffs).
Last meeting: You remember the 2015 NFC divisional playoff game. Aaron Rodgers’ Hail Mary to Jeff Janis to force a miraculous overtime. Fitzgerald ruining the Packers’ momentum with his rumble through their flailing, failing defense. In a long line of memorable playoff games for the Packers, their 26-20 loss Jan. 16, 2016 was one of the most stunning.