Fitzgerald, Cardinals dominate Giants
GLENDALE, Ariz. — If the Sunday game against the New York Giants winds up being Larry Fitzgerald’s last home performance in a Arizona Cardinals uniform, he could have said goodbye at halftime and it would have been a more than fitting farewell.
The veteran wide receiver was a one-man playmaking machine during the Cardinals’ 23-0 victory over the Gaints at University of Phoenix Stadium.
Fitzgerald, who hasn’t determined if he will come back for a 15th season despite recently agreeing to a one-year contract extension through 2018, continued to show no signs of slowing down at age 34.
In addition to catching a game-high nine passes for 119 yards and a touchdown, Fitzgerald also completed his first NFL pass on an end-around option, hitting Jaron Brown for a 21-yard gain.
By halftime alone, Fitzgerald already had eight catches for 104 yards and a touchdown, eclipsing both 100 receptions and 1,000 receiving yards on the season. It was the ninth time he reached 1,000 yards — the most by any player in history.
“Congratulations to him for another milestone,” Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said. “I don’t know if there’s any milestones left. Unbelievable performance by him.”
Drew Stanton threw two touchdown passes and safety Antoine Bethea intercepted Giants quarterback Eli Manning twice as Arizona helped send New York to its fifth consecutive loss. The Giants (2-13) haven’t struggled in a season this badly since 1973 and ‘74, when they went 2-11-1 and 2-12, respectively.
Sunday marked the first time the Giants were shut out since a 27-0 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Oct. 12, 2014.
“No one wants to lose and lose as much as we have,” Manning said. “It’s obviously been tough all year. Nothing has come easy. We’ve lost heartbreakers and we’ve lost some like this, where we just never could get much going.”
It was the first shutout for the Cardinals since they blanked the Giants 19-0 on Dec. 12, 1992.
Arizona (7-8) can avoid a second consecutive losing season under Arians if it wins next week at Seattle. With a victory over the Seahawks, Arians would become the winningest coach in franchise history. He earned his 49th win on Sunday, including the postseason, tying Ken Whisenhunt for the record.
“That’s fantastic,” Arians said. “I can’t take any of the credit. It’s all the players and the coaches. Our coaches have done an unbelievable job with all these young kids and all these injuries, of giving them the game plan to win with. I can’t say enough about ‘Bettch’ (defensive coordinator James Bettcher) and the defense and the job they’ve done in the last six weeks. Guys are really playing their (rears) off.”
Since being ranked 24th overall at the midway mark of the season, the Cardinals’ defense rose all the way up to No. 7 entering Sunday’s game, ranking first against the pass and third against the run since Week 10.
Stanton, getting the start in place of Blaine Gabbert, who had made the previous five starts, was 20 of 34 for 209 yards and the two touchdowns. Like Manning, he also was intercepted twice, both times by Giants cornerback Ross Cockrell.
Manning, who appeared in his 215th game for the Giants — one shy of tying Michael Strahan for the most in franchise history — completed 27 of 45 passes for 263 yards. Sunday marked the third time in the past five games that Manning has played in which he was held without a touchdown pass.
“Hey, we didn’t score any points so I didn’t play well enough,” Manning said. “We didn’t convert on third downs, we didn’t score, so obviously I didn’t play well enough.”
Arizona, which got a 21-yard field goal from Phil Dawson to open the scoring in the first quarter, got its first touchdown in three weeks when Stanton hit Fitzgerald for a 13-yard strike with 1:01 left in the first half. That snapped the team’s streak of 183:26 without a TD, dating back to the second quarter against the Los Angeles Rams on Dec. 3.
Bethea’s second interception of Manning helped set up Arizona’s next scoring drive in the third quarter. The 11-play, 75-yard march was capped by a 15-yard pass from Stanton to John Brown, who missed the previous four games with a toe injury. Dawson missed the extra point, and it was 16-0.
The Cardinals closed out the scoring at the start of the fourth quarter when Deone Bucannon sacked Manning, forcing a fumble, and Robert Nkemdiche picked it up and rambled 21 yards for a touchdown.
As for Fitzgerald, he didn’t have much to say about his future.
“It’s nice to be able to play a game you love and be able to do it at a high level still, especially to do it in a win,” he said.
When asked if Sunday might have been his last home game for the Cardinals, he replied, “I don’t like to get into that type of thinking because it’s a lot bigger than me.”
NOTES: The Giants played without starting MLB B.J. Goodson (ankle) and starting WR Tavarres King (concussion), and they lost TE Evan Engram to a rib injury in the first quarter. ... Cardinals WR Larry Fitzgerald has caught at least one pass in 210 consecutive games. Next week, he can tie Tony Gonzalez for the second-longest streak in NFL history behind Jerry Rice (274). ... Giants DE Jason Pierre-Paul played with a familiar club on his right hand, the result, he said, of fracturing a finger last weekend. He had one sack on Sunday. ... Cardinals rookie LB Haason Reddick left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury and did not return.