Arizona Cardinals legend Larry Fitzgerald has tested positive for COVID-19 and will be forced to miss Sunday’s Week 12 showdown with the New England Patriots.
Fitzgerald has been the face of the Cardinals franchise thanks to his epic on-field production and uncommon durability. This will mark only the third game the 37-year-old will have missed since the beginning of the 2008 season.
Larry Fitzgerald tests positive for COVID-19
NFL Network’s Mike Garafolo and Tom Pelissero broke the bad news regarding Fitzgerald’s status for Week 12. The 11-time Pro Bowler is in the midst of his 17th season and is still getting the job done as a sure-handed possession receiver while mentoring a young, promising receiving corps led by superstar DeAndre Hopkins.
While Arizona does have additional offensive weapons for quarterback Kyler Murray to throw to, Fitzgerald has the savvy to get open by finding soft spots in zone coverages better than most, and still has immense strength and excellent ball-carrier vision to get the job done on receiver screens and other precision-based short passing concepts. He is showing signs of decline at this late stage of his amazing career, though.
Larry Fitzgerald stats, Cardinals playoff outlook for Week 12 and beyond
Although he’s never been a particularly explosive receiver in terms of generating massive chunk plays, Fitzgerald isn’t quite the playmaker he once was. A struggle to create separation has led to Fitzgerald averaging only 7.8 yards per catch for 336 yards on 43 receptions in 2020. That’s the lowest YPC he’s ever had, as Murray has honed in on Hopkins as his go-to guy. Among the 123 qualified receivers in Pro Football Focus’ database, Fitzgerald ranks 104th in the site’s overall offensive player grades.
What Fitzgerald does bring to the locker room is a veteran leadership presence Murray simply doesn’t have in the midst of his second year. This type of intangible is key when facing a Patriots team in Week 12 coached by Bill Belichick, who’s bound to give Murray headaches with complex defensive schemes.
In any other typical injury situation, it’d be at least conceivable that Fitzgerald could make the trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts, and serve as a de facto coach on the sidelines, helping coach Kliff Kingsbury, Murray, Hopkins and the rest of the offense make in-game adjustments as Belichick throws the kitchen sink at them. Alas, due to the need to isolate when testing positive for COVID-19, Fitzgerald won’t be able to offer his immense wisdom to help Arizona amid its difficult road trip.
Despite the fact that New England only has a 4-6 record and has the last-ranked defense by DVOA, the team still has remote playoff hopes, and Belichick isn’t the type to ever concede defeat or resign himself to a lost season. What works in the Cardinals’ favor is how shorthanded the Pats are, and the fact that Murray’s elite running ability can bail him out if he’s flummoxed by Belichick’s complex schematics.
In a difficult NFC West division where the Seahawks and Rams are 7-3, every game becomes especially important for Arizona (6-4). Entering Sunday, the Cards hold the seventh and final postseason spot in the conference, and a win against the dynastic Patriots would provide momentum to springboard them into their clash with the Rams in Week 13.
Winnable games loom for Arizona after that, before a Rams rematch in Week 17 that could wind up deciding the division title and be huge for playoff seeding implications. Fitzgerald should be back in time for the key stretch run, beginning with next week’s game, but for now, these youthful Cardinals are on their own heading into one of the most difficult places to win in the league for the past two decades.