LANDOVER, Md. -- The question -- and the timing of it -- surprised Washington Redskins corner Kendall Fuller, who did not anticipate Larry Fitzgerald doing a whole lot of talking. Yet, there was Fitzgerald early in the game striking up a conversation. This wasn’t about talking trash; it was about, well, Fuller wasn’t quite sure.
In the first quarter of Washington’s 20-15 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday, Fitzgerald started talking to Fuller, which eventually led to a funny exchange with Redskins safety D.J. Swearinger, Fitzgerald's former Cardinals teammate.
“Larry likes to talk to you during the game,” Fuller said. “My brother is a big golfer and me and my brother [Kyle] were out in Arizona, so they probably went golfing. So he asked me, ‘You gonna be golfing this summer?’ The first time I answered it and told myself if he says something to me again, I ain’t going to say nothing back.”
That prompted Swearinger to get involved.
“Larry’s always trying to talk,” said Swearinger, who played last season with Arizona. “He’s always trying to talk in the middle of the play. It got to a point where I was like, ‘Larry, shut up and go back to the huddle. Stop trying to ask questions, trying to clown people.’ He’s just a funny guy. That’s Larry. He was like, ‘Man, you changed. The money changed you.’ I’m like, ‘I’m playing football. I’m not trying to talk to you. We can be friends after the game.’”
Fuller and Swearinger both helped defend Fitzgerald on Arizona’s final play from scrimmage, a fourth-and-10 incompletion on which Fuller’s coverage forced a throw behind Fitzgerald -- and Swearinger hit him after the ball arrived.
In the bigger picture, Sunday was another day in a strong season for Fuller. He was called for a pass interference penalty versus Fitzgerald in the fourth quarter, but overall he did what he’s done all year: defend well in the slot. The Redskins, if nothing else, have found a strong corner in the second-year pro.
“The way Kendall is playing, he’s one of the top one or two cornerbacks in the nickelback position in the game right now,” Redskins corner Josh Norman said. “It’s amazing to see how he’s transformed. His first year was a struggle and now he’s picking it up and becoming an elite cornerback in that slot position.”
It’s hard to know which young players will factor into the Redskins’ future. Defensive lineman Anthony Lanier had a strong game with a sack, three passes batted down and two quarterback hurries. But he also has to improve at stopping the run and the Redskins want more consistency overall. Yet he flashed in a big way.
For Fuller, it hasn’t been about flashing. It’s been about consistency.
“He’s been amazing,” Swearinger said. “Regardless of what he’s been doing in the slot, whether it’s the run game or covering, he’s making the open-field tackle. He’s going to get the screen.”
In the win at Seattle on Nov. 5, Fuller intercepted a pass that summed up what he does well. It was a slant route, but Fuller anticipated the route, broke hard and picked it off. He's known for his work habits -- he grew up around brothers who also played in the NFL, then credited watching others such as DeAngelo Hall, Norman and Swearinger prepare. Fuller has soaked it all in.
“You’ve got to study to put yourself in that position,” Redskins secondary coach Torrian Gray said earlier this season. “If you anticipate right, most guys will still not make that interception. So to plant and drive, you have to commit to it and he committed to it. Most guys know that play is coming, but maybe they don’t commit to it. They maybe break it up, but they don’t intercept it. That just shows a confidence and growth to finish that play.”
And you see that when Fuller sprints to stop a receiver screen, as he did twice Sunday. But it was fun for him to face Fitzgerald, whom he remembered seeing in college at Pitt while his older brother, Vinny, played for Virginia Tech.
“After the game, I came in and was like, ‘Dog, that was fun going against a Hall of Famer,’” Fuller said. “During the game it’s just another number in front of me.”
One who tried to get inside his head.
“I don’t think he’s trying to distract you, I think he’s trying to make you think,” Fuller said, “like, ‘All right, is he trying to get in my head now or just talking?’”
After the pass interference penalty, Fitzgerald extended his hand to Fuller.
“I didn’t know how I felt about that,” Fuller said. “It was kind of like, ‘You got a play on me but you’re helping me out.’ I thought about it but I reached my hand out.”
But he and the Redskins got the last word.