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Larry Fitzgerald making perhaps his final homecoming

MINNEAPOLIS -- Larry Fitzgerald Jr.'s march to Canton stops in Minneapolis on Sunday for what might be his final homecoming game against the team that indoctrinated him into the NFL as a teenage ball boy.

Dec 10, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) talks with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) following the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Vikings 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports
Dec 10, 2015; Glendale, AZ, USA; Arizona Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald (11) talks with Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson (28) following the game at University of Phoenix Stadium. The Cardinals defeated the Vikings 23-20. Mandatory Credit: Mark J. Rebilas-USA TODAY Sports

MINNEAPOLIS - Larry Fitzgerald Jr.'s march to Canton stops in Minneapolis on Sunday for what might be his final homecoming game against the team that indoctrinated him into the NFL as a teenage ball boy.

The Arizona Cardinals' star receiver, Holy Angels graduate and universal good guy has accomplished so much in 13 seasons that his resume virtually has a comet tail.

Fitzgerald has more catches (1,086) than 24 of the 25 receivers enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame had through 195 games except for Marvin Harrison (1,102). Only Jerry Rice (16,918) and Harrison (14,580) had more receiving yards at this point in their careers.

Yet there is so much more for him to do as the Cardinals (4-4-1) roll into U.S. Bank Stadium for a key NFC game against the reeling Vikings (5-4).

Before the season, Fitzgerald, 33, signed an $11 million contract extension through 2017. Still, he had to shoot down an NFL Network report hours before Arizona's Week 1 kickoff that he was going to retire after this season.

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No receiver has been more prolific in his first nine postseason games, yet Fitzgerald is chasing the championship ring that eluded him in 2009, when Pittsburgh defeated the Cardinals in Super Bowl XLIII.

"I'm (near) the end of my career, I'm well aware of that," Fitzgerald said on a conference call with Twin Cities media this week. "But I never say, 'Man, look what I've accomplished. This is great.' Because I'm still in it, I'm still working to get better.

"There's a lot of stuff still for me to work on and do better. I left a lot of plays on the field last week and the week before that, so whenever I watch myself, there's still so much that I can improve on."

The six-time All-Pro is being modest about missed opportunities Sunday in Arizona's 23-20 victory over San Francisco. He had 12 receptions for 133 yards and became the third-youngest receiver in NFL history to reach 14,000 career yards.

Fitzgerald also moved into sixth place on the all-time receptions list with 1,086. Grabbing nine against Minnesota would move him past Tim Brown. He only needs 17 catches to leapfrog Cris Carter and Marvin Harrison into third place behind kind Rice (1,549).

"I was in high school watching this guy," said Vikings rookie cornerback Mackenzie Alexander. "He's a phenomenal player; doesn't drop many balls, runs precise routes. They use him a lot of different ways to make him a big factor."

Wily best describes Fitzgerald, who leads the Cardinals this year with 68 catches for 687 yards and five touchdowns.

His spectacular, 75-yard overtime dash through Green Bay's defense to win last season's NFC divisional playoff game at Arizona started as a five-yard flip from quarterback Carson Palmer, which Fitzgerald spun into gold in a 176-yard performance.

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He has been one of the league's most physically fit receivers since arriving 2004 as the third overall pick out of the University of Pittsburgh.

But since moving into the slot last year, Fitzgerald has further mastered zone and double-team coverage, subtly boxing out defensive backs and making it difficult to account for him in the middle of the field.

His durability might be his most unappreciated asset. Fitzgerald has only missed six games. Moreover, his 188 consecutive games with a reception are the fourth-longest in league history.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer lauded Fitzgerald's pass-catching skills but what the longtime defensive coach most admires is his toughness.

"I'm amazed the number of times he goes in there and blocks, gets racked up and hit," Zimmer said. "His stamina is so great to be able to continue to play. If I had to pick a Hall of Fame guy, I'd pick him every single time."

Theirs is a mutual admiration.

"Without the excellent personnel that he has on the Vikings defense, he's one of the best defensive play callers in the game," Fitzgerald said. "He just has a wealth of knowledge. He does a great job of breaking down his opponents and trying to neutralize the things that they do well."

Fitzgerald spends his summers in the Twin Cities and runs a well-attended pro camp every year at his high school alma mater. Whether it was returning to the Metrodome, where Fitzgerald shagged balls for the Vikings during the Denny Green era, or making his first visit to U.S. Bank Stadium, these road games are all business trips.

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"I'm only coming there for one reason, and that's to get a win," he promised.

Fitzgerald has 44 catches for 610 yards and a touchdown in seven career games against the Vikings, but Minnesota is 5-2 in those games. Fitzgerald's single-game career high in yards (172) was in Minnesota on Nov. 26, 2006.

Ten years gone.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians said Fitzgerald's willingness last year to buy into playing slot, while maintaining his stature as one of the NFL's best blocking receivers, typifies his passion for football.

"He plays it the way it's supposed to be played," Arians said.

Related Topics: FOOTBALL
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