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Depleted Eagles Fight To The End in Wild Card Loss

Six weeks.

According to some media reports, that was the length of time Zach Ertz needed to recover from his injury—reportedly a lacerated kidney suffered in the decisive Week 16 game against the Dallas Cowboys—before he could play football again.

But after only two weeks, after consulting team doctors, after deciding that he could fight through the pain, Zach Ertz suited up Sunday for Philadelphia in their Wild Card playoff against the Seattle Seahawks. For Ertz, it was an easy decision.

“My teammates needed me,” he said.

It’s worth mentioning that in addition to the kidney, Zach had two fractured ribs, as well. Fractured rib cartilege, too. Still, he played —from whistle to whistle, just to give his team a chance to advance.

But despite the valiant efforts of Zach and his injury-riddled teammates, the injury bug that plagued the Philadelphia Eagles all year finally spelled their season’s demise on Sunday afternoon.

Just 14 days after suffering his own injury against Dallas, Zach put forth his best effort, with a pair of catches totaling 44 yards. Those passes, however, came from Philadelphia’s backup quarterback Josh McCown, after the 40-year-old was pressed into emergency duty when Carson Wentz was lost for the day with a head injury.

In his first real game action since Week 2 — and the first playoff action of his career — McCown gave it his all. But the Eagles couldn’t finish drives in the red zone and ultimately lost 17-9 to the Seahawks in the Wild Card round of the 2020 NFL Playoffs at Lincoln Financial Field.

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After the game, Zach reflected on the myriad challenges he and his teammates faced all season long, right up until the final whistle on Sunday evening in Philly.

“Obviously the season didn’t end how we wanted, but at the same time I’m extremely proud of everything this team overcame. The team showed a lot of fight,” he said. “This team embodies this city. It’s a resilient city, it’s a tough city and I feel like the character of this team the past couple years has been a reflection of the city. We do everything we can to try and win on Sundays and sometimes we just come up a little short.”

Among those challenges for Zach himself was being on the field at all on Sunday afternoon. In Philadelphia’s key Week 16 game against the Cowboys, Zach took a shot to the body from Dallas safety Xavier Woods. No. 86 left the game, but eventually returned and finished the contest, which the Eagles won, 17-9, allowing them to take control of the NFC East. Zach was later diagnosed with two non displaced rib fractures, a painful injury to say the least, but one that Zach believed he could play through without doing further damage.

However, matters got worse after the game when Zach noticed blood in his urine. The Eagles rushed him to the hospital for further testing and he was diagnosed with a kidney injury that made doctors take the decision out of his hands. He had to miss the team’s Week 17 NFC East clinching victory over the New York Giants and his status for the playoffs was left in extreme doubt.

By Friday, as the Eagles completed their final practice for Sunday’s game with Seattle, Zach had not yet been cleared for contact. But after one more set of tests on Saturday, No. 86 got that clearance he had been seeking and was all systems go for Sunday. He said after the game that as long as the doctors cleared him, there was no chance he wouldn’t be out there.

“I wanted to play for this city. I take a lot of pride in playing for my teammates,” he said. “It was tough. The Monday after the Cowboys game I couldn’t get out of bed on my own. But I knew everything this team has gone through together since we started last April. I knew if there was a chance I could play, I always get the best cover guys and the defense always has to account for me, so I knew if I could be out there, even if I wasn’t 100 percent, that the defense has got to treat me like I’m 100 percent. I couldn’t look myself or my teammates in the eye, knowing everything they’ve sacrificed over the months, if I was able to go and didn’t go. So as long as everyone was good with it from a health standpoint, I wasn’t going to miss the game.”

THE GAME

So Zach suited up for the Eagles in what, early on, was a defensive struggle between two stout units. The teams exchanged punts on their first drives and Seattle’s second trip down the field ended when the Eagles blocked a Jason Myers field goal attempt, keeping the score knotted 0-0 and giving Philly some momentum. However, that momentum was short-lived. On the first play of the ensuing drive, Wentz felt some pressure and was sacked by Seattle safety Bradley McDougald. But it was a hit that happened when Wentz was already on the ground, from defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, to Wentz’s back and the back of his head, that jarred Wentz. The force of Clowney’s body into his back drove him face-first into the turf and drew the ire of the Eagles, despite the lack of a penalty flag for the seemingly late hit.

“I saw it on the side and I thought it was late,” Zach said. “It’s a quarterback hit to the head. But it is what it is. I’m sure there was somebody in the way [of the official] or something. They’re doing everything they can to protect players and I’m sure there’s a reason they didn’t call it.”

Wentz remained in for the rest of the drive, which saw the Eagles pick up a first down on a defensive holding call, but ultimately flamed out. On the sideline, Wentz was taken to the medical tent and ultimately to the locker room. He was ruled questionable to return with a head injury. At halftime, the Eagles downgraded him to out for the rest of the game. It was just the latest in a litany of injuries for the Eagles, who end the year with 13 players on IR and many other key contributors also out for the season. After fighting through injuries and missing the postseason each of the last two years, Wentz was starting his first playoff game and the fact that he couldn’t finish it left Zach gutted for his teammate and friend.

“I kind of knew something was wrong right away just the way he got up. I’m devastated for my guy,” Zach said. “The guy has battled through everything the past couple of years and he’s the leader of this football team unanimously. Guys love playing for him no matter what some other people say. He’s carried us through so much turmoil this year and he never bats an eye, he never gets frustrated, he just keeps pressing and that’s the ultimate sign of a leader. He’s done everything he can to put us in a position to win, the last four weeks just really putting the team on his back and saying “We’re going to get to the postseason and I’m going to take us there.” That’s what he did.”

The injury left the reins with veteran quarterback Josh McCown, playing on his ninth team over 17 NFL seasons, yet taking the field in a postseason game for the very first time. In emergency action, McCown was solid, completing 75 percent of his passes (18-of 24) passes for 174 yards and finishing with a quarterback rating just south of 95.

As expected, and even with McCown under center, the Philadelphia offense looked to exploit Seattle’s weakness defending tight ends. Zach had a monster 12-catch, 91-yard game, including a touchdown, against the Seahawks in a loss at the Linc early in the season, and overall the Seattle defense gave up just shy of 100 receptions for nearly 1,100 receiving yards to go along with six scores to tight ends in the regular season. So, as Zach noted, his presence on the field, even to draw the attention of the defense, was crucial. And while the Eagles had a tough time getting the ball to Zach, Dallas Goedert led all Philly pass-catchers with 73 yards on seven catches. Zach also notably drew a pair of holding penalties that extended Philly drives.

The Eagles ground game also combined for 120 yards on 26 carries for a respectable 4.6 yards per carry. Rookie Miles Sanders, who played through an ankle sprain, led the way for Philly runners with 69 yards on 14 carries. But the Eagles simply couldn’t finish what they started on offense.

After Seattle followed the Wentz injury with a field goal to make it 3-0, McCown shook off the rust and, on his second drive under center, drove the Eagles into Seattle territory. But after a first-and-10 from just outside the red zone at the Seattle 26, the drive stalled and the Eagles settled for a Jake Elliott field goal to tie it 3-3. Settling for three was a theme of the day for the Philly offense. Seattle followed the game-tying field goal with a touchdown drive right before halftime and took a 10-3 lead in at the break.

The Eagles opened the second half with an emphasis on aggressive play-calling. Coach Doug Pederson even told NBC’s Michelle Tafoya that the team needed to get Zach involved after he was held without a catch on just one target in the first half. Sure enough, on the first play of Philly’s drive to start the second half, McCown found Zach crossing the field for a huge 32-yard play that put the Eagles in business immediately in Seahawks territory.

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Philadelphia kept pushing the ball down the field and two plays later a deep pass from McCown to Greg Ward Jr. drew an interference penalty that put the Eagles in the red zone for the first time at the Seattle 20. Boston Scott then ripped off a 15-yard run to put Philly on the doorstep of the end zone. But the Eagles took a delay of game penalty on the next play and the drive stalled from there, forcing them to settle for another Elliott field goal to make it 10-6.

The Seahawks then struck quick with a five-play scoring drive capped by a 53-yard touchdown pass from Russell Wilson to D.K. Metcalf. The Wilson-Metcalf combo hurt the Eagles all day, as the rookie receiver shined in his first NFL playoff game, catching 7-of-9 passes for 160 yards and a score. Metcalf’s 160 yards are the most by a rookie in a playoff game in the Super Bowl era. Wilson totaled 360 yards through the air and ran for an additional 45 yards.

Philly had chances following the second Seattle scoring drive, but continued to come up short. Their ensuing drive got all the way to the Seattle 17 but stalled and another Elliott field goal made it 17-9, which coincidentally was the final score of the Week 12 meeting between the two teams, also at Lincoln Financial Field. Early in the fourth quarter, the Eagles drove into Seahawks territory, assisted by Zach’s only other catch of the day — a 12-yard first-down grab that got Philadelphia across midfield. But after a Goedert catch on third and long put the Eagles in a manageable fourth and four, Sanders dropped a swing pass from McCown, turning the ball over on downs after a drive that took nearly six minutes off the clock.

A quick three and out by Seattle gave Philly one more chance with just under five minutes remaining and again McCown drove the Eagles within striking distance, all the way down to the Seahawks’ 10-yard line. McCown lined up in the shotgun on 4th and 7 from the 10. However, the pocket quickly collapsed, and when he tried to step up, he was brought down by Clowney. Pederson said after the game that McCown changed the play at the line of scrimmage, but not everyone got the call and that led to the breakdown. Seattle picked up a first down on the ensuing drive to put the nail in Philadelphia’s coffin.

“We had chances to make plays and we just didn’t make enough of them,” Zach said. “Seattle’s a really good defense. They’re really well-coached and hats off to them.”

THE AFTERMATH

Rather than moving on to play at Lambeau Field next Sunday, the Eagles move into an offseason of uncertainty as a litany of players, Zach included, attempt to recover from the injuries suffered this season. Though he is still under contract to the Eagles and plans and hopes to be on the team in 2020, No. 86 knows the team will never be the same.

“It’s just one of those years. I think we had like five guys that started the year who finished the game today. So obviously it was tough, but everyone’s got injuries. We’re never going to make an excuse,” Zach said. “Just right now, just bummed with the finality of this whole thing. You put so much in, you understand that this team is never going to be the same. No one knows what’s going to happen each and every offseason. So I’m just proud of the guys, proud of everyone. I want to be back, hopefully, so that’s the plan.”

No. 86 added that the thing he’ll take from his seventh NFL season — moreso even than the worst injury of his career — is how the team rallied back after a loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 13 that many felt doomed their season, and falling behind 17-3 to the New York Giants the following week in a must-win game. They went on to win that game against the Giants on an overtime touchdown by Zach, and won the next three as well, to take the NFC East title and make the postseason for the third consecutive season, against all odds.

“I know the pain is going to subside, but the relationships I’ve built through this team, this locker room, that’s what you’re thinking about right now,” he said. “We’ll meet one more time as a team and that’s going to be the last time we’re all going to be together. That’s the worst part of the NFL besides the injuries is just losing teammates over the years to other teams, kind of losing contact with some of those guys. But at the same time, the great part of the NFL is [meeting] guys that I would’ve never met in my life. You become extremely close with, you build relationships with, you go through adversity [together]. So as the season ends, that’s kind of what you’re going to remember. The losses sting. The pain hurts. But the relationships you get with the guys are something that you’ll never forget.”

By | 2020-01-07T20:40:13+00:00 01.07.20|News|0 Comments

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