While the NFC East is consistently putting up awful displays, the NFC West is the other side of the coin. Anticipation was in the air when the Arizona Cardinals had to face down the undefeated Seattle Seahawks a few weeks ago.
It paid off, if not in exactly the way most fans expected. The Seahawks were at times brilliant, before veering into pants-on-fire moments of panic. The Cardinals capitalized, with incredible attention to the small details that rarely get discussed as true game-changers. In this case, they absolutely were, and it all came down to an aging wide receiver leveraging his experience as a ball boy.
How hustle plays sent the Arizona Cardinals toward their biggest victory of 2020
The Cards’ huge win over the Seahawks was, as CBS Sports enthusiastically reports, widely regarded as the most entertaining game of the year so far. That’s saying a lot, given how every single game involving Seattle so far has been a rollicking, sometimes chaotically good time. In this case, they ran up against a team too smart to allow any mistakes to go unpunished.
It seemed like DK Metcalf’s instantly iconic rush down of Budda Baker, as Seahawks.com reports, would be the big story of the day. While the entire game was a joy to watch, it was the final minutes of regulation where the biggest story of the week unfolded.
With 2:30 left on the clock, the Cards were down 10 points. They somehow scored a touchdown, forced a huge stop, and tied the game with a 44-yard field goal as the clock dwindled away.
Fortunes twisted in a different direction during overtime. The Cardinals missed a 41-yard field goal attempt, leaving most viewers convinced that Russell Wilson was about to continue Seattle’s undefeated streak.
Miraculously, it wasn’t so. Metcalf ran in what seemed to be the game-winning touchdown, until it was overturned on a holding call. An uncharacteristic interception thrown by Russell Wilson immediately followed. This time, the Arizona field goal went where it was supposed to. Ballgame over.
Larry Fitzgerald’s days as a ball boy were instrumental in the win
From the time the clock hit 2:30, the game hinged on time management. Those repeated field goal attempts were made possible by canny attention to detail, making sure every second between snaps was used in the perfect way. Yet almost none of that came from head coach Kliff Kingsbury.
In fact, Kingsbury was so inattentive to the clock that, according to The Ringer, he nearly triggered a delay of game penalty at one point. Instead, the thoughtful respect for the clock — and the rules of the game — came from wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. The 37-year-old veteran may have personally saved the Cardinals from the jaws of defeat.
The task at hand at one point was to set up three QB spikes in just one minute. Normally, players simply wait while referees or ball boys get the ball into position. The often lackadaisical pace they bring to that task wasn’t something Fitzgerald could stand by and watch.
He hustled to bring the ball to the line of scrimmage repeatedly, guaranteeing the best opportunity for his team to win the game without losing to the clock.
Larry Fitzgerald’s ball boy past
Fitzgerald’s mental math led to sharp time management rarely seen from wide receivers, who tend to have other worries on their mind. It comes second nature to the 12 season veteran, however, because his introduction to the NFL revolved around it. Vikings.com reports that he was once a ball boy for the Minnesota Vikings, giving him crucial experience with the game from an angle few players experience.
Ball boys aren’t players, of course, but they can affect the pace of the game. Fitzgerald felt immense pressure to do everything for his team on a timely basis whenever he was on the clock. It gave him a special sense of care for the ball that few players have. That ball boy experience has paid off handsomely — in the form of an actual NFL win.