The second NFL season for Philadelphia Eagles tight end Zach Ertz was a charmed one, and as he prepares to take the next step as a third year pro in 2015, we’re counting down his five best games from the 2014 campaign.
Coming in 5th on the list was one of Philly’s most thrilling victories of the year—an early-season game where Zach solidified himself as one of the team’s big play threats for the coming campaign.
The stage was set for Zach Ertz to have a breakout night heading into a Week 2 prime-time battle on one of the sport’s biggest stages: Monday Night Football.
No. 86 had played such a large role in his team’s season opening win against the Jacksonville Jaguars that it caused many around the league to take notice. That victory sent the Eagles off to Indianapolis feeling strong, and waiting on the other side was another title contender in the Colts, led by quarterback Andrew Luck, one of Zach’s former teammates at Stanford.
No. 86 drew plenty of praise from his former QB during the week leading up to the game, then backed it up with his play on the field, hauling in four passes from Eagles quarterback Nick Foles and hitting his jersey number in yards with 86 yards, which at that point was a career high.
That effort played a major role in Philly’s 30-27 victory, which set them off on a 2-0 start to the season.
One guy that wasn’t the least bit surprised by the critical role Zach played in Philly’s second straight win was Luck. The Colts signal caller was well aware of what No. 86 was capable of, and their connection became a topic of conversation in the week leading up to the Monday Night matchup.
Zach and Luck spent plenty of time together as teammates during their years at Stanford, with the former hauling in passes from the latter to account for all 43 catches he made over the course of his sophomore and junior seasons at Stanford. With that in mind, the Indianapolis quarterback was prepared for what No. 86 was going to bring to the table for Philadelphia on Monday Night Football, and had some high praise for his former teammate while on a conference call ahead of the matchup.
“Not a surprise to any of us of how successful he was last year and starting this year off as well,” Luck said. “Great athlete, great body control, type of guy you feel comfortable[throwing] the ball up to because you know he’s going to come down with it. I’ve always been impressed with how he works his butt off in the run game in doing the things that maybe people don’t notice but do make a big deal. He’s a great team player, so definitely happy for his success. Just hope he doesn’t do too well against us.”
Despite that praise from across the bow, as a quarterback, the Stanford product was in no position to stop Zach, and his teammates didn’t have much luck doing so on Monday night either.
Zach struck fast against his former teammate’s squad, pulling down receptions of 27 and 14 yards on the Eagles’ first drive of the game. Those two big plays, including one on third down each moved the chains and helped Philly drive deep into Indy territory, A pair of foiled run plays forced the Eagles to settle for a field goal, but they’d made a statement on their opening drive and held a 3-0 lead as a result.
However, after Zach’s strong start, the Colts adjusted their coverages to keep him quiet and mostly held the Eagles off the board for the rest of the first half. Meanwhile, the Indy offense got rolling behind the play of Luck and at halftime the Colts held a commanding 17-6 lead.
They pushed that advantage to 14 points early in the third, but Philadelphia figured out a response late in the third and Zach was a big part of it. On a 3rd-and-11 five plays into the drive that followed Indy’s field goal, Foles connected with No. 86 over the middle for a 21-yard catch-and-run that moved the chains and put the Eagles back in Colts territory. Eventually Philly capped the seven-play, 80-yard drive with a touchdown to pull back within seven, down 20-13.
Then, on the first play of the ensuing Colts drive, Philly’s Fletcher Cox forced a fumble that the Eagles pounced on at the 25. Another Eagles score followed on a run by Darren Sproles to tie the game at 20-20. From there, the two teams traded touchdowns, with Indianapolis first taking the lead back and Philadelphia responding once more with a scoring drive to answer the call and once again knot the score, this time at 27, with 3:30 remaining in the game.
The Eagles defense then came up with a huge stop to put the ball back in the hands of the offense with just under two minutes to go and an opportunity to win the game. It was a chance they would not miss.
Philadelphia took over at their own 40-yard line, and on the first play of the subsequent drive Foles immediately found Zach for a pivotal 24-yard gain.
“Zach has been doing a great job since he got here, really getting open, running good routes,” Foles said afterward. “He’s a big target, and he can make the catch any which way. If it’s at his shoelaces, he’s going to make the catch, and he does a really good job of that. And I have good protection to get the ball out, and the other guys are doing their job to run routes to move the defense. It was definitely a big play in the game.”
Sproles then followed suit with a 17-yard reception, and kicker Cody Parkey punctuated the comeback shortly thereafter with a 36-yard field goal as time expired.
Zach came away a bit disappointed in one miscue—a third-quarter drop on a drive that ended in a touchdown anyway—but he was overall thrilled with his play, and the final result: another Philadelphia triumph.
“Probably my most complete game. Obviously I’m still upset about that one drop that I had. It probably would’ve been a touchdown,” Zach said. “I want to make plays for this team whether it’s in the pass game or the run game. I think I was able to do that tonight. Hopefully instill some more trust in the coaches and myself.
All that matters is the win, and hopefully we just continue to do that.”