Friday, December 6, 2013
By HOWARD ULMAN The Associated Press
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - The painful memory of a 47-7 rout by the New England Patriots still burns inside Larry Fitzgerald.
CARDINALS (1-0) at PATRIOTS (1-0)
WHEN: 1 p.m. Sunday
SERIES RECORD: Tied 6-6
LAST MEETING: Patriots beat Cardinals 47-7, Dec. 21, 2008
LAST WEEK: Cardinals beat Seahawks 20-16; Patriots beat Titans 34-13
STREAKS, STATS AND NOTES: Teams meet for third time in 12 years. Patriots have won last five matchups after losing six of first seven. Cardinals last beat Patriots on Sept. 29, 1991. ... Patriots routed Cardinals in last meeting 47-7 on Dec. 21, 2008, while Tom Brady was recovering from season-ending knee injury. His replacement, Matt Cassel, completed 20 of 36 passes for 345 yards and 3 TDs. ... Cardinals have won eight of last 10 games. Patriots have won 11 of 12, with only loss in Super Bowl to New York Giants. ... QB Kevin Kolb starting for Cardinals after John Skelton, who beat him out in training camp, sprained right ankle in opener. ... Larry Fitzgerald needs three catches to become youngest to reach 700. He'll be 29 years, 16 days old Sunday. Current youngest is Houston's Andre Johnson at 30 years, 139 days.
So what if the Arizona Cardinals made it to the Super Bowl six weeks later? The thought of that embarrassment four years ago drives him going into Sunday's first meeting between the teams since.
"There's not a lot of guys on this team from the 2008 year, but we remember that butt kicking we took up there," Fitzgerald said. "That didn't sit well with us then and four years later it still stings. That was a tough game, the worst game that I ever played in in my professional career."
The Patriots are two-touchdown favorites this time, but Coach Bill Belichick made the game sound like a toss-up.
He reminded his players of more recent developments, such as Arizona's eight wins in its last 10 games. He drilled that into them as motivation against a team that has lost its last five matchups with New England.
"They've been in a lot of real tight, competitive games that come down to the wire that they find a way to win," he said.
The Cardinals did that last Sunday when they went ahead with 4:59 left, then stopped a Seattle drive in the final seconds of a 20-16 win. The Patriots had a much easier time in their opener with a 34-13 victory at Tennessee in which they shut down the Titans' offensive star, running back Chris Johnson.
Now the Patriots must focus on Fitzgerald.
"He does everything well," Belichick said. "He's a great, great receiver, will go down as one of the all-time greats, and might end up being the best one ever."
Fitzgerald is a threat no matter who's throwing the ball. Kevin Kolb is the likely starter for John Skelton, who sprained his right ankle last week.
The Patriots' defense, fortified with first-round draft picks Chandler Jones at end and Dont'a Hightower at linebacker, was outstanding against the run and pass at Tennessee. The secondary got better with the addition of starting safety Steve Gregory and second-round draft choice Tavon Wilson, who intercepted a pass in his debut.
Arizona's defense faces a tougher task -- controlling Tom Brady and a revived running game that makes one of the NFL's best offenses even better. Second-year back Stevan Ridley rushed for a career-high 125 yards and Brady threw for two touchdowns in the opener.
The Cardinals had eight straight losing seasons before Ken Whisenhunt took over as head coach in 2007 and led them to an 8-8 record. They've had just one losing season in his five at the helm.
But one loss in particular gnaws at Fitzgerald.
In that thumping four years ago, he scored on a 78-yard pass play after the Patriots had built a 47-0 lead.
"I'll never forget walking off that field and looking at that scoreboard, just the feeling of embarrassment, disappointment," he said. "We definitely want to go out there and have a much better performance."