When Zach Ertz hauled in a miraculous touchdown catch late in Sunday’s game, it seemed as though something magical might happen again in the Philadelphia twilight, on the same stage where the Eagles advanced to the Super Bowl last January.
But in a highly anticipated rematch of last year’s NFC Championship Game, Philly couldn’t replicate the result, falling 23-21 to the Minnesota Vikings despite a late rally in the fourth quarter. With the loss, the Eagles dropped to 2-3, their first week below the .500 mark since the end of the 2016 season. The three losses also match their total from all of 2017. But to hear coach Doug Pederson tell it, there is plenty to be gained from Philadelphia’s early-season adversity, and he expects his squad to grow and eventually prosper again.
“We’re learning a lot,” Pederson said. “One, I think the biggest thing I’m learning with this football team, obviously there’s no quit. There’s always a drive, there’s always a willingness to finish games, and that’s really important because that’s going to pay off for us eventually down the road.”
Due to that refusal to give in, prosperity seemed within reach on Sunday in the late stages of the game. Despite a horrific start to the contest, which saw the Eagles fall behind 20-3 midway through the third quarter, Philly never quit and showed some resolve to fight back into the game. After Dan Bailey’s 22-yard field goal gave the Vikings a 17-point lead, the Eagles responded with a field goal of their own from Jake Elliott. Then, the defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back to the offense late in the third quarter.
Carson Wentz then orchestrated a 10-play, 66-yard drive. That drive was jump-started by a 23-yard completion to Zach, which got the ball into Vikings territory. Eventually, Wendell Smallwood capped off the scoring trip with a 12-yard touchdown reception from Wentz. Smallwood then ran in the two-point conversion to make it a six-point game with nearly a full quarter still to play.
However, Minnesota buckled down, and the teams were stuck in a stalemate until a 52-yard field goal by Bailey with 2:47 to go put Philadelphia’s comeback effort in jeopardy. But the Eagles wouldn’t quit.
Zach and Wentz helped lead Philly the length of the field in just 1:38 to give them one last chance. The dynamic duo connected four times on the drive for 52 yards, including the epic touchdown, which saw No. 86 high-point the ball with his fingertips for an incredible grab and manage to maintain control as he fell to the ground, with both feet in bounds, to get his first touchdown of the season.
After the extra point the Eagles just trailed by two, however, they needed to recover the ensuing onside kick. Unfortunately, despite a good kick from Elliott, Minnesota’s Adam Thielen secured the ball, and the Eagles offense never got a chance to drive down and win the game.
In what may be a blessing, Zach and the Eagles, don’t have much time to think about what they could have done differently, as they turn around on a short week and head over to New Jersey this Thursday night to take on the New York Giants at Metlife Stadium.
The game with the Giants is a crucial divisional battle, and while this 2-3 start isn’t what the Eagles had hoped for after such a spectacular year a season ago, starting this week they still have six games remaining against divisional opponents. And with no team in the division currently in possession of more wins than the Eagles, the NFC East, and a path to the postseason, is still wide open.
“The only good part about playing on a short week is that if you lose previously, you’re not dwelling on it for too long,” tight end Zach Ertz said. “You just have to put the pads on in four days and go to work. The whole division is in front of us. That’s kind of – I’m not going to say the silver lining because I’m not happy with where we’re at – but the whole division is in front of us.”
Kickoff from Metlife Stadium is slated for 8:20 p.m. ET and the game can be seen nationwide on FOX.