GLENDALE, AZ – The Eagles have played elite wide receivers in the past, but perhaps none as explosive as Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald, who caught two meaningless touchdowns in the first meeting of the season at Philadelphia, torched the Eagles for nine catches for 152 yards and three very meaningful scores.
Fitzgerald set a single playoff record with 419 receiving yards, surpassing the great Jerry Rice.
He also became just the third receiver in NFL history to catch three touchdowns in a conference championship game as Arizona advanced to its first Super Bowl in franchise history. Photo Gallery : PHI vs. ARZ 1-18-09
"I think every great receiver has a great quarterback," cornerback Sheldon Brown said. "(Cardinals' quarterback) Kurt (Warner) reads things very well and he throws the ball only where Fitzgerald can catch it. Not just Fitzgerald, but all his receivers. You've got to give Kurt credit. He's battling his butt off. He's playing at a high level."
So is Fitzgerald, who not only hurt the Eagles bad in the first half, he had three catches and converted two first downs on the Cardinals' game-winning drive in the fourth quarter.
On the Cardinals first play of the second quarter, Warner handed the ball off to running back J.J. Arrington, who seemingly was about to run off right tackle. He stopped, however, and threw the ball back across to Warner, who in turn lofted a pass downfield for Fitzgerald, who had single coverage deep down the field.
The play worked. Quintin Demps fell down, allowing Fitzgerald to haul in the long pass and trot into the end zone to give the Cardinals a 14-3 lead.
"They like to throw the ball up for him," cornerback Joselio Hanson said. "It's nothing new."
Fitzgerald didn't waste any time picking up where he left off against Carolina last weekend. On the Cardinals opening drive, Fitzgerald caught a crossing route from Warner and turned it into a 19-yard gain and a first down.
His second grab was another crossing route as he pin-balled his way into the end zone for a nine-yard touchdown to give Arizona a 7-0 lead.
On Arizona's second possession, the Eagles defense stuffed the run and forced an incompletion to set up a third-and-9 play. Warner found Fitzgerald on yet another crossing pattern, but the secondary converged to stop him just short of the first down marker.
It was one of the few times the Eagles contained Fitzgerald in the first half.
On his third touchdown catch of the game, Fitzgerald's strength allowed him to shrug off Brown at the goal line before getting open for a fade pass from Warner to push Arizona's lead to 21-6.
"We were making mistakes and you can't make mistakes in a game like this," safety Quintin Mikell said. "We fixed everything in the second half. It just wasn't enough."