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Fitzgerald magnificent in Cardinals' OT victory

Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt call a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in Tempe, Ariz. Arizona Cardinals head coach Ken Whisenhunt call a play during the second half of an NFL football game against the Seattle Seahawks, Sunday, Jan. 1, 2012, in Tempe, Ariz. (AP Photo/Paul Connors)
By Bob Baum
AP Sports Writer / January 2, 2012
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GLENDALE, Ariz.—Larry Fitzgerald allowed himself a rare show of emotion after his final catch of the season for the Arizona Cardinals.

It was a diving, one-handed grab for an 8-yard gain that put his team within field goal range of what would be a 23-20 overtime victory over the Seattle Seahawks on Sunday. He leapt to his feet and screamed in joy, spreading his arms in triumph.

"That juncture of the game is put-up or shut-up time," Fitzgerald said. "I try to stay even keel for the most part, but sometimes you get overcome with emotion. That was one of those times."

The catch, and another just a couple of plays earlier, capped a magnificent performance in another terrific season for Fitzgerald, who caught one pass for 2 yards in the first half but finished with nine receptions for 149 yards, his 32nd career 100-yard receiving game and sixth this season.

"The performance of Larry Fitzgerald, he is an incredible football player," Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said. "He is as good as you can get in this game and he showed it. I just marvel at the things he does. He has done it before and he did it again and it proves who he is."

In his eighth NFL season, Fitzgerald joined Jerry Rice, Randy Moss and Marvin Harrison as the only players to have four 1,400-yard receiving seasons.

"We are so glad Larry is with us," Arizona coach Ken Whisenhunt said, "what he brings to the team. He makes those big plays. What a great player."

Fitzgerald soon will be off to Africa now with good friend and former teammate Anquan Boldin.

"We're going to do some work over there," Fitzgerald said. "They've been devastated by drought and famine over there. It will be good to reunite with Q and do it for a good cause as well."

The season finale matched teams that were awful at the start of the season, yet turned things around.

The Cardinals led 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, but the Seahawks came back to tie it before Fitzgerald's heroics helped seal the victory. Arizona went 7-2 after a 1-6 start. Amazingly, four of the last nine games, all Arizona victories and all at home, were in overtime. Seattle hadn't played an overtime game since Week Two of 2008.

"I wish we could play more games in overtime," Fitzgerald said. "If we play 16 games in overtime next year, we might go 16-0."

Arizona quarterback John Skelton didn't mention it, but he fainted in the locker room before the game after getting fluid drained from a knee.

"Pregame he scared us all. He fell out and he had a little fainting issue in the locker room," Fitzgerald said. "We were all nervous about him being able to play today and he fought through that and was able to go out there and perform and get our team a win. That shows the kind of toughness he has."

Skelton completed 22 of 40 for 271 yards and a touchdown with one interception. Tarvaris Jackson was 21 of 35 for 222 yards and a touchdown with one pick for the Seahawks.

The Cardinals also had overtime victories over St. Louis, Dallas and Cleveland. The Seahawks finished with the same record as a year ago, when 7-9 was good enough to win the NFC West.

"We know we have a better team this year," Seattle safety Earl Thomas said. "We are young but the experience that we got this year and all the plays we made we can build on that next year."

Arizona's Patrick Peterson, who made the Pro Bowl on special teams as a rookie, returned a punt 42 yards to set up a field goal, then blocked Steven Hauschka's 24-yard field goal attempt. It was the NFL-leading fifth blocked field goal for the Cardinals, two of them by Peterson.

Seattle won the toss heading into overtime, and Leon Washington's 47-yard kickoff return gave the Seahawks the ball at their own 40, but they failed to move it and had to punt.

Arizona's game-winning drive started at the 19. On third-and-3 at the 26, Skelton threw over the middle to Fitzgerald, who caught it between two defenders for a 26-yard gain to the Seahawks 48. Skelton's quarterback sneak on fourth-and-less than a yard gave Arizona a first down at the Seattle 37.

Arizona had it second-and-9 at the 36 when Skelton threw toward but not particularly close to Fitzgerald, who somehow gathered in the ball with one hand and cradled it as he fell to the ground. A review confirmed that it was a catch. LaRod Stephens-Howling, filling in for the injured Beanie Wells, rushed three times to the Seattle 9, and Feely's third field goal of the game gave the Cardinals the win.

Down 20-10 early in the fourth quarter, Seattle tied with a pair of big plays by two rookies, Richard Sherman and Ricardo Lockette. First, Sherman stepped in front of intended receiver Andre Roberts for an interception that set up a chip shot field goal by Hauschka, then Jackson lofted the long pass to Lockette, who beat cornerback Marshay Green, and it was 20-20 with 7:47 remaining. Green had just been activated from the practice squad on Saturday.

Wells was a surprise inactive. He had been listed as questionable but had played through the pain in his left knee through the season.

Skelton finished 5-2 as a starter, 6-2 if you count the San Francisco game.

Quarterback Kevin Kolb missed the final three games of his frustrating first season with Arizona because of a concussion, the result of a knee to the head on the Cardinals' third play of the game against San Francisco on Dec. 11. He missed four games earlier in the season with a right turf toe injury.

Notes: Marshawn Lynch's string of 11 straight games with a touchdown came to an end. ... Peterson set an NFL rookie record for punt return yards (699), the second-most of any player in league history. ... Seattle's Doug Baldwin became the first undrafted rookie free agent to lead his team in receptions and yards receiving since Bill Groman of did it for the Houston Oilers in 1960. ... The University of Phoenix Stadium roof was closed even though it was sunny and 83 degrees outside. ... The stadium already had extra seats installed for Monday night's Fiesta Bowl matchup between Oklahoma State and Stanford.

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