The 2015 season brought its ups and downs both individually and collectively for Zach Ertz and the Philadelphia Eagles. But while the Birds fell short of their playoff aspirations, the year brought several remarkable performances and victories.
As No. 86 and Co. work toward attaining those goals in 2016, we’re counting down the Top 5 games had by Zach in his third season in Philly.
No. 5: Zach and Sam Connect in Blowout Win
Zach Ertz and Sam Bradford were both sidelined during training camp and the preseason, leaving the pass-and-catch duo short on time to build a rapport. That resulted in a bit of a slow start to the season for ZE and Bradford in the quarterback’s first year in Philadelphia. But in Week 5 against the New Orleans Saints, they started to roll in a statement victory.
No. 86 snared five of his seven targets for 60 yards, his first output over 50 for the year, as the Eagles smashed the Saints 39-17. The game added to the list of Bradford believers, and ZE was glad Sam and the offense were able to show what they can do.
“He told us, ‘It’s our time to go. We had some ups and downs through the first four weeks, and it’s time for the offense to put a complete game together,’” Zach said, recalling Bradford’s pregame pep talk. “He’s not the most vocal guy, but when he says something, everyone listens. That’s what we need out of him, and I thought he played a heckuva game today. We know the kind of player Sam is. If we need somebody to step up, the quarterback’s going to be the first guy that everyone looks to. He’s the leader of the offense, and I think everyone goes as he goes.”
It was an outstanding day for Zach and his fellow tight ends. Brent Celek added to ZE’s 60 yards with three catches for 44 and a score. The two also paved the way for a 186-yard output by the Philly ground game in the blowout victory.
“We kind of knew coming into the game that Brent and I were going to have some more opportunities this week based on the game plan,” Zach said. “I thought we did a good job and were successful when both of us were in the game. And hopefully it’s something that continues.”
As Zach hoped, the strong play did continue for he and the Philly offense. He averaged 55.6 yards over a five-game stretch, beginning with the Week 5 win.
The Eagles had a bit of a slow start on the scoreboard, but as they failed to produce points on their first two drives, they totaled 134 yards and set the stage for success over the remainder of the contest.
“Early in the game, we have to get first downs so that we can wear down opponents,” No. 86 said. “I’m not saying that we wore them down, but I thought we played extremely well early in the game and I think that sets the tempo for the entire game.”
The Saints took a 7-0 lead early, but Zach set up his team’s first score in the war of attrition. He hauled in a 13-yard pass on the opening play of the drive, and he acted as a decoy on the scoring play. While ZE ran a deep corner route, Josh Huff ran a drag route from across the zone. The two defenders in the area covering Zach and Huff collided, leaving Huff open space to jaunt 41 yards into the end zone to tie the game at seven.
“I think if you get anybody going early, you’re able to feed off the energy and know that you’ve been successful and able to make plays and I think that goes for any position,” Zach said after the game.
No. 86 pulled in his longest reception of the day, a 21-yard completion, on the following Philadelphia series. However, that drive was doomed by a false start penalty, and the Eagles gave it back on downs. Then with 1:12 left in the half, the Philly defense came up big. Fletcher Cox tallied a big sack and forced fumble of Drew Brees. Linebacker Jordan Hicks recovered it and kicker Caleb Sturgis gave the Birds a 10-7 halftime lead.
The Saints tied it up at 10 on their first drive of the third quarter, but the Philly just kept rolling. Ryan Mathews punched in a two-yard score, capping an 80-yard drive. On the first play of the next series, Cox wreaked havoc in the backfield again, forcing another Brees fumble, recovering it on his own this time. On the very next play, Bradford hit Celek for a 13-yard score, giving the Eagles the 23-10 advantage.
“I think it was kind of to exploit some of the looks that they were giving us,” Bradford said of his team’s two-tight end looks. “We felt like when we were in 12 (personnel) or two tight ends that early in the game, they were playing primarily a lot of man. We liked our matchups out there, so that’s why we kept going to that. And then obviously at the end of the game, when we kept 12 on the field, we were just pounding the rock at them with those guys.”
A few drives later, Zach added to his tally with an eight-yard reception on 3rd-and-11, setting up a 41-yard field goal from Sturgis to put the Eagles up 32-10. Then the defense made another terrific play. Walter Thurmond picked off Brees on the next drive, and DeMarco Murray capitalized and locked in Philly’s win at the Linc.