It was a roller coaster year for Zach Ertz and the Philadelphia Eagles—both individually and collectively, but the ups provided by the season have them anxious to prove what they can do in the coming years.
ZE overcame an offseason and midseason injury to post career bests in receptions with 75 and yards at 853. It was the third straight year Zach saw an uptick in both categories, but the Eagles fell short of their goals as a team. Philly finished 7-9 and short of the playoffs, but its season was highlighted by late wins over the New England Patriots and Buffalo Bills, as well as a season sweep over the New York Giants.
Zach came away impressed with some of the progress and promise the Eagles showed throughout the year, but he also knows that they must keep improving going forward.
“I don’t think anyone on the offense or defense is satisfied with how this year went. I know the defense, they weren’t happy with the last couple of games of the season, though they played really well at the beginning of the year. And our offense, we had our spells of very good play. But everyone views this season as a failure,” Zach said. “I think that’s the way you have to look at it you don’t make the playoffs especially, and if you don’t win the Super Bowl. That’s our goal each and every year. Every day we train in the offseason, every time we put in the work on the field, it’s to win a Super Bowl. From that standpoint it’s a failure. So I don’t think anyone is walking out of the locker room on exit day happy with how the season went.”
The up and down year started with offseason surgery to repair a groin injury suffered by Zach early in training camp. He had surgery to repair the tear but returned just in time for Week 1.
While he didn’t miss the opening kickoff of the regular season, the time lost in the offseason and in preseason proved valuable. Particularly when it came to his rapport with new Eagles quarterback Sam Bradford.
Zach caught a 21-yard reception in the opening game, but only finished with 46 receiving yards as the Eagles lost 26-24 to the Falcons. Over the first four weeks, No. 86 totaled just 104 yards on 10 receptions as Philly suffered a 1-3 start.
Then over the next five games, the Eagles got it together—just as Zach and Sam truly got on the same page. It began with a 60-yard performance in a 39-17 blowout of the New Orleans Saints, followed by a 43-yard output in a 27-7 win over the Giants on Monday Night Football.
The following week, the Eagles faced the red-hot Carolina Panthers, minus one day of preparation. Zach had 63 yards on five receptions—a season-high at the time, but the Eagles fell 27-16 while the eventual NFC champions moved to 6-0.
Philly’s bye week came next, and out of the break, the Eagles posted a key divisional victory, a 33-27 triumph over the Dallas Cowboys behind a 44-yard effort from ZE. Zach secured a tough 27-yard catch from Bradford to allow his team to kick a field goal and eventually force overtime against their divisional rivals. The Stanford product had another strong performance the following week: 68 yards on seven receptions, but Philly fell just short in a 20-19 loss to the Miami Dolphins.
Still, Zach’s day against Miami was the best of his season to that point, and the Eagles, at 4-4 and having won or lost by 11 points or fewer in every game to that point, were still in a solid position. But then came a visit from Tampa Bay that brought a big setback.
Early in the game, Zach tried to hurdle a defender to reach first-down yardage, but he was upended and landed awkwardly on his head and neck. The concussion left him sidelined for that week and all of next as the Eagles fell to the Buccaneers and the Detroit Lions by a combined score of 90-31.
But after two defeats without both Zach and Bradford, the pass-and-catch duo returned in time for a meeting on the road with the defending NFL champion New England Patriots. The Pats raced out to a 14-point lead before ZE hauled in a five-yard touchdown pass that sparked a 35-0 Philly rally in the monumental 35-28 win.
“I think we knew the type of team we were, but this is real confidence builder,” Zach said. “We know we can come into a hostile environment against a guy who has lost[very few games] in his career in this place and win a game against a very good team. Hopefully, that will go a long way for us.”
Philly kept rolling in Week 14 against the Buffalo Bills. ZE posted another season high with 98 receiving yards, and late in the fourth quarter, he had a 41-yard catch and run that set up the game-deciding field goal.
“I think it was biggest in the sense of it was the longest catch and also we needed a play to be made,” Zach said of that play. “And, I’ve made plays for this team the past two years but in the situation that we were in, the playoffs on the line, I think that was the most important catch.”
Philadelphia won that game 23-20, giving the team a 6-6 record and a realistic chance of making the playoffs. But two straight losses derailed the Eagles’ playoff hopes.
No. 86 did all he could to lift his team. He tallied 78 receiving yards and a touchdown in a 40-17 loss to the Arizona Cardinals. The following week, Philly fell 38-24 to the Washington Redskins, but Zach grabbed a season-best 13 receptions for 122 yards in the process. But even a career day didn’t make up for the tough defeat.
“Our goal every year is to make the playoffs, make a run, win the division and get hot at the right time,” Zach said. “Obviously, we didn’t do that. We had so many opportunities this year. It shouldn’t have come down to this game in the first place.”
The Eagles parted ways with Chip Kelly after the loss, setting the stage for a new coaching era on Philly. However, the 2015 Eagles had one last hurrah, and they made the most of it. Zach certainly did, catching nine passes to break the career-high he had set just last week: 152 yards, including a 60-yard reception, to lead his team to a 35-30 win over the New York Giants.
“That’s kind of the stuff I expect out of myself. I expect to play at a high level every week,” Zach said. “Obviously really bummed the way we finished as a team, but I definitely want to be one of those guys, elite guys, in the future. But I’m not going to be satisfied. I want to be mentioned as one of the best in the league, up there with guys like [Rob] Gronkowski and Greg Olsen.”
On Jan. 19, the Eagles hired former Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson to become their next head coach. A week later, ZE signed a five-year extension to remain with the Eagles.
When ZE signed his contract, he spoke of the great athletes who have left their legacy playing for one team their entire careers. He said that’s something he would like to do in Philadelphia, and signing the extension was a step in that direction.
“One of the things I pride myself on is being a great teammate and never letting my teammates down, and all of those guys have continued to push me in ways and reach levels that I didn’t think I could reach,” Zach said. “I love Philly. My family loves it. I love how passionate Eagles fans are about their football, how they live and breathe it. I put a lot of pressure on myself to be the best, and our fans want us to be successful as much as we want to be successful.”