GLENDALE, Ariz. — With Jerry Rice looking on from field level at State Farm Stadium, Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald took one step closer Sunday to catching the Hall of Fame receiver on the NFL’s all-time receptions list.
Fitzgerald, 36, passed Hall of Fame tight end Tony Gonzalez for second place on the all-time list on a 15-yard catch with 1:41 left in the Cardinals’ 27-10 loss to the Seattle Seahawks on a first-and-10 play from the Cardinals 49.
Fitzgerald came into the game needing five catches to reach 1,326 for his career, which is in its 16th season, one more than Gonzalez. He finished the game with exactly five, for 47 yards.
But Fitzgerald, who has downplayed his other records and achievements in recent years as things he’ll reflect on when he’s retired, said this feat didn’t mean as much because of the loss.
“I don’t mean any disrespect to guys on the all-time list but it’s hard to take anything good from losing two in a row at home, three home games out of four, and we don’t come out with a win,” Fitzgerald said. “That’s pretty depressing so there’s not much to really be happy about.”
Fitzgerald said he received a “real nice message” from Gonzalez earlier Sunday. Fitzgerald then called Gonzalez “arguably the best tight end to ever play the game” and said to have his name mentioned with Gonzalez’s “is truly an honor.”
With Fitzgerald sitting at 1,326, he’s still a far run behind Rice’s 1,549.
“It really hasn’t hit me that I threw him the ball to pass Tony Gonzales,” rookie quarterback Kyler Murray said. “I’m surprised Jerry Rice has caught that many balls to be honest with you.”
Rice wasn’t the only retired player in attendance to watch Fitzgerald move ahead of Gonzalez.
Former Cardinals’ quarterback Carson Palmer was at the game for his induction into Arizona’s ring of honor. Palmer complete 363 passes to Fitzgerald in five seasons together.
Fitzgerald could already hear what Palmer would tell him after the game: “Man, you guys need to win that game.”
Palmer, who retired right after the 2017 season a few days after turning 38, thinks Fitzgerald can keep playing physically. It’ll be whether Fitzgerald wants to continue doing it mentally, Palmer said.
“Once you get to 32, 33, it’s a mental game, then,” Palmer said. “Do you want to do it? Do you still love it? Do you still love training camp? Do you still love preparing and watching film and practice? He’s at that point in his career where he’s not showing any signs of slowing down.”
Fitzgerald had just one catch in the first half and caught his second pass at the 11:01 mark of the third quarter. He became a bystander as the Cardinals’ offense struggled, yet again, to close out drives with touchdowns. Arizona kicker Zane Gonzalez missed two kicks and the Cardinals were just 1-for-3 in the red zone.
The Cardinals dropped to 0-3-1 and head to Cincinnati next weekend.
“I didn’t anticipate being where we are now,” Fitzgerald said. “We’re just not good enough to make the mistakes we’re making now. Often times, it’s a little bit too late when we finally get going.”
Fitzgerald’s third catch came with 5 minutes left in the third quarter and his final two receptions, including the record-setting catch, were on back-to-back plays inside the 2-minute warning.
“He’s an incredible player and an incredible person, and I’m very excited for him to get that,” coach Kliff Kingsbury said.
But Fitzgerald wasn’t overwhelmed with Rice being in attendance Sunday.
Rice has watched Fitzgerald play before, the Cardinals pass catcher said. The two used to train together, with Rice teaching Fitzgerald the nuances of route running, and they still talk often.
“Jerry has been very kind to me long before today,” Rice said. “He’s been a wonderful mentor for a long time.”
Rice congratulated Fitzgerald on Instagram before the game began and labeled him the “GOAT.”
Asked about being called the greatest of all time by Rice, Fitzgerald said: “It’s pretty special to get that from the actual GOAT. I guess when you are the GOAT, it’s easy to call someone else the GOAT right? He’s the best all time and I got a real nice messages from Tony Gonzalez too who is arguably the best tight end of all time. So to have your name mentioned with those guys is truly an honor.”