BY: ED COLE
TEMPE, Ariz. – It only feels like it’s been a month since the Arizona Cardinals played a game. To be completely factual, it’s only been 11 days since their season ending 36-6 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.
“Yeah, it’s been a pretty long time since we last played, so I think everybody’s chomping at the bit to get back out there and play,” Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald said. “It’s playoff football at home. It’s going to be a raucous crowd, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Green Bay Packers will be returning to the Valley for a rematch with the Cardinals on Saturday night in the NFC Divisional Playoff Game.
Green Bay will be looking for revenge on Arizona from the 38-8 pasting they took at University of Phoenix Stadium on Dec. 27. They looked like a completely different football team in Landover, Md., last weekend, as they put an exclamation point on their 35-18 win over the Washington Redskins. They showed the entire football world that they’re back, and they’re ready to deal out some damage in the postseason.
“They’re (Packers) playing better,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m expecting Sam Shields to be back there. He’s a Pro Bowl cornerback, so having him will definitely be a great help. They’re playing better. They played against Washington, they got behind early and they found a way to fight their way through it.”
“Offensively, (Packers quarterback) Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers. He is the reigning MVP of the National Football League, so we understand that we’re going to have to put points up on the board and try to neutralize their running game. They did a good job rushing the football last week (141 yards rushing). They were very balanced, so we know that when we get our possessions, we’re going to have to capitalize on them. It would be great to have our defense spot us 14 points. That would be nice too, to help the offense.”
Rodgers caused a stir this week when he came out and said that “the pressure’s all going to be on them,” with the them being the Cardinals. He made note of the Seahawks loss, and the Cardinals being the favorites to hoist the Lombardi Trophy on Feb. 7. He said there’s no pressure on the Green Bay side; it’s all on Arizona to go out and win it all, because so many people have already anointed them as world champions.
Fitzgerald says it’s not “weird” to hear all the chatter about the Cardinals being the favorites, and seeing all the Las Vegas odds in their favor in regards to winning Super Bowl 50. He says it’s something the team’s worked their tails off for, and it’s something that’s “deserved.”
“We played well up to this point,” Fitzgerald said. “In this business, you get what you put out there. We play good and we deserve to be the number two seed. What we do with it, is up to us. It’s no better feeling than to control your own destiny, and we have ultimate control of that at this point.”
The team’s stayed grounded and stayed focused all season primarily because head coach Bruce Arians has kept it that way. To this day, Arians still tells them they haven’t won a darn thing, and until they hoist the Lombardi Trophy, and they’re crowned world champions, he’ll continue to talk to them that way.
“He (Arians) stays on us all the time, but we have a lot of guys, a great veteran leadership with Carson (Palmer), Dwight Freeney, Frostee Rucker and Red Bryant,” Fitzgerald said. “A lot of guys who have playoff experience and have been in the league a long time, and understand the gravity of the situation we’re in. Not many people get to this position. We’re one of eight teams remaining out of 32 and that’s a great place to be. But, you don’t want to fall short of our ultimate goal.”
In looking back on his sure-to-be Hall of Fame career, Fitzgerald’s best moments came in their run to Super Bowl XLIII and of course the game itself (not the losing part, but the experience of playing in it). Like Fitzgerald said, not many NFL athletes get a chance to play this deep into a season, so he’s taking this playoff blessing and he’s running with it, both literally and figuratively.
“It’s the most exciting thing you can do (playoff football),” Fitzgerald said. “It’s a high that’s the highest you can have. There’s nothing like coming out of that tunnel and seeing that crowd just going crazy, for you or against you. The hair’s standing up on your arms and it’s a great feeling. Hoping that your number’s going to get called so that you can be the guy to make the first down or catch the touchdown to put your team on top. That’s what you dream about as a child.”