At some point in the career of Philadelphia Eagles’ record-setting tight end Zach Ertz, a decline will begin. Maybe, considering his alarming drop in catches compared to 2018, it already has.
Certainly there was no evidence of that Sunday, though, in a 22-14 victory over the Chicago Bears that was highlighted by his game and season highs of nine catches and 103 receiving yards.
How many more games like this one the seven-year veteran who will turn 29 next week has left in him is anyone’s guess. But for one week at least, Ertz looked like the force he’s been in rising to second place on the franchise’s all-time receptions list and setting the record last year for the most receptions (116) by a tight end in NFL history.
Those 116 catches also are the most by any Eagle in a season.
His nine catches Sunday were more than he had in his previous three games combined and all were huge in helping deliver a victory the team absolutely had to have.
“I felt like the past two weeks I was going to kind of be more of a focus in the game plan,” Ertz said. “Obviously, last week in the win, it just turned into a running game. But this week I felt like I was going to be a factor in the game. I felt confident going into the game. I felt like I had a really good week of practice, both Dallas (Goedert) and myself. I’m really excited about how the tight ends played today.”
Goedert added four catches on five targets for 39 yards, including a crucial 16-yard gain on a third-down screen pass with 2:24 to go on the Eagles’ final possession. It was the last of their four third-down conversions on a drive that lasted 8:14 and resulted in a 38-yard field goal by Jake Elliott that sealed it with 25 seconds to go.
“That was a phenomenal play call,” Ertz said. “Dallas is really good at running tight-end screens. He’s in there a lot in pass protection, so when he’s able to kind of, I feel like get the ball in his hands, he’s a really dynamic football player.
“Him and Carson (Wentz) were on the same page. It obviously took a little longer than probably they thought it was going to. That was just based on the defense. But Carson made a great throw and Dallas was really good after the catch. That was a big play.’
So was the 4-yard pass Ertz caught on third-and-3 40 seconds earlier.
“We kind of ran a little interference play,” Ertz said. “Definitely not (an illegal) pick play. Interference play (with the help of wide receiver Mack Hollins), and I was able to catch it and lean forward for a first down.
“But Doug (Pederson) is a phenomenal play caller, one of the best I’ve ever been around, probably the best I’ve ever been around. So we love playing for him and he’s going to put us in a bunch of positions to be successful.”
Ertz’s performance Sunday brought his season totals to 46 catches and 527 yards through nine games, which means the 116 catches he had for 1,163 yards last season are still almost certainly out of reach.
No matter. Ertz is back in the game and has regained his mojo.
“I was frustrated that we were losing games, obviously,” he said. “I’ve said it a million times: I don’t care if I get two catches, as long as we win the game. But I take it personally when we lose, especially kind of the way we lost those two games in particular (to Dallas and Minnesota), so the frustration was obviously going to come out in some way. My body language was probably not great in those games, so I was just happy to come out here and be a big factor in the win today. I thought I played well.
“I’m proud of Carson, I’m proud of our O-line. Against a really good defensive front, against a top player in the league (Khalil Mack), they battled their butts off. Andre Dillard in his third career start, going out there battling the way he did, I’m really excited with where we are at as an offense right now.”
With no deep threat whatsoever following the quick departure of DeSean Jackson, who was in for just a few plays before aggravating an abdominal injury that had kept him out of the previous six games, it was even more important that their short-range passing game be efficient. With the help of Ertz, Goedert and running back Miles Sanders (three catches, 31 yards), it was.
As they head for a much-needed and well-deserved off week, that may be their most comforting thought.