Larry Fitzgerald had his biggest game of the season against the Eagles with seven catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns.
Coach Bill Belichick knows something about evaluating talent. You don't win three Super Bowls by sheer luck (although some wiseacre will gladly point out that landing Tom Brady with the 199th pick of the 2000 NFL Draft is the definition of luck). In general, he says very little, even during league-mandated press conference where words come from his mouth but the order in which they leave makes them mostly meaningless.
Maybe that's why people notice when Belichick offers up a scouting report on another player. Remember Eagles' WR Freddie Mitchell, who claimed he didn't know any of the names of the players in the Pats secondary ahead of Super Bowl XXXIX? He caught one pass for 11 yards in that game (New England won, 24-21) and afterwards Belichick offered this: "All he does is talk. He's terrible, and you can print that. I was happy when he was in the game."
Earlier this week, ahead of the Patriots' matchup with the Cardinals, Belichick was much more laudatory when speaking about Arizona wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald. (This is what happens when you don't flap your gums and also happen to be one of the league's best players.)
"He does everything well," Belichick said Tuesday. "Great, great receiver. He'll go down as one of the all-time greats, and might end up being the best one ever, I don't know."
The praise continued: "Size, quickness, ability to separate and get open, exceptional hands. He's good short, deep, with the ball in his hands, after the catch, strong, very smart, sets up his routes well. They move him around, they put him in a lot of different spots, it's hard to even find him, you have no idea where he's going to line up from play-to-play, and he has a very big route tree. He runs all the routes, double moves off of them, complimentary moves, so one route sets up another. It's very hard to defend him, it's very hard to find him, and then it's very hard to defend him. Again, he's just as dangerous going down the field as he is taking a shorter pass and running with it. That's not really the answer either, just to let him catch it in front of you and not give up any big plays, because he can make plays there too. Try to keep the ball out of his hands, but that's not easy."
Although it has become much, much easier now that Kurt Warner has retired and he's been replaced by the revolving door at quarterback that have included such names as Max Hall, Derek Anderson, John Skelton and Kevin Kolb. Still, we take Belichick's point.
Fitzgerald, not to be outdone, was surprised to hear Belichick's remarks.
"That’s what he said?" Fitzgerald asked. "It’s an honor that he even knows my name to be honest with you. He’s arguably the best coach to ever do it. You look at his record and what he’s been able to accomplish over his career. He’s an unbelievable football coach."
"I have a long way to go,"Fitzgerald continued. "I have a lot to improve on and a lot to work on. Obviously I’m envious of him with all his hardware he has and his team has."
We'll get to see just how good Fitzgerald is -- and how much Belichick thinks of him -- this weekend. The Pats' defensive game plan will no doubt focus on stopping Fitzgerald and making the Cards' offense one-dimensional.
Kickoff is at 1 p.m. Sunday at Gillette Stadium.