Eagles

Trey Burton, Brent Celek have no problem filling Zach Ertz's shoes

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AP Images

Trey Burton, Brent Celek have no problem filling Zach Ertz's shoes

Really, it felt like 2009 again. There was Brent Celek making a big catch, bowling over a linebacker and lunging past the sticks for a first down. And there was the crowd at the Linc roaring its approval.

Just like old times.

"It felt great," Celek said. 

Celek, once one of the NFL's most feared pass-receiving tight ends, has been largely a situational blocker since the emergence of Zach Ertz as an even-more feared pass-receiving tight end.

When Ertz was a surprise inactive Sunday with a hamstring injury, Celek and Trey Burton picked up the slack, combining to catch five passes for 80 yards and a touchdown in the Eagles' 51-23 win over the Broncos at the Linc (see breakdown).

The Eagles have tremendous tight end depth. Celek, from 2009 through 2013, ranked sixth in the NFL among tight ends in receiving yards and can still catch the ball and run. Burton, a former undrafted free agent, caught 37 passes last year, which is tremendous production for a third-string tight end.

The Eagles have been losing players all year, and in every case, the backup has performed at a high level.

Celek and Burton kept up that tradition Sunday.

"I'm not surprised by any means," said Ertz, who came into the weekend second among NFL tight ends in catches and yards. "I'm pumped for those guys. Brent and Trey stepped up and did exactly what they needed to do."

Celek had caught just four passes all year and only 27 in his last 30 games. And Burton had just nine catches the first eight weeks.

But Celek caught three for 39 yards Sunday, two for first downs, and Burton added a 14-yarder and a circus 27-yard touchdown — the longest TD catch of his career — as the Eagles improved to 8-1 with their seventh straight win (see Roob's observations)

"When you lose guys — and we've lost a few, (Darren) Sproles, (Jason) Peters — everybody else has to just play that much better, and that's what I tried to do," said Celek, now in his 11th year with the Eagles.

"That's what I have to do. That's what they have me here for. I've got to be ready to be that guy who can come in and help in the run game and help a little in the passing game, and when Ertz goes down, I have to be able to play well. That's what my teammates expect, and that's what I expect."

Safe to say there's nobody on this roster that hardcore Eagles fans appreciate more than Celek.

He's now played in 168 games, fifth-most in franchise history.

The only guy ahead of him who played his entire career with the Eagles is Chuck Bednarik, at 169 games.

So in two weeks, Celek will have played in more games than anybody in Eagles history who played his entire career here.

Nothing better than seeing the grizzled old forgotten veteran show flashes of his old self.

Celek — the only player on the roster who's played in an Eagles' playoff win — has done something rare, transitioning from a big-time starter to a rarely used backup.

"Sometimes that's just what you have to do for the team," Celek said. "If you want to be a team player and you still want to be a part of this organization, that's what you have to do.

"I could have gone in a different direction, but I want to be here. I love this place."

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

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USA Today Images

Doug Pederson's preseason comparison doesn't look so ridiculous now

When Doug Pederson said back in July that the 2017 Eagles "probably have more talent" than the Super Bowl Packers teams of the 1990s that Pederson played on, more than a few eyebrows were raised.

Millions of eyebrows maybe.
 
The Eagles? Who hadn't won a playoff game since 2008 and were coming off a 7-9 record in Pederson's first season?
 
More talented than a team that went to the playoffs virtually every year from the early 1990s through the mid-2000s behind Hall of Famers Brett Favre and Reggie White and reached back-to-back Super Bowls in 1996 and 1997, winning one?
 
"I look back on my time in Green Bay as a player when we were making those playoff runs, those Super Bowl runs there," Pederson said on July 17.
 
"And do we have as much talent on this team than we did then? We probably have more talent, right?"
 
Seriously, Doug?
 
Six months later, Pederson's comments — which seemed so ridiculous at the time — don't seem so ridiculous, do they?
 
Because here are those 2017 Eagles, sitting 13-3 with a playoff win over the Falcons in the books and a berth Sunday in the NFC Championship Game against the Vikings despite a rash of injuries to some of their best players.
 
The Eagles haven't lost a game with postseason implications since Carson Wentz was lost for the season, and they're one home win from reaching their third Super Bowl.
 
Pederson, who had two stints backing up Brett Favre with the Packers — from 1996 through 1998 and 2001 through 2004 — was reminded of his comments Friday before practice.
 
"I don't have a crystal ball, obviously, and it's hard to predict," he said. "You'd love to sit here and go, 'Yeah, in the summer, (I thought we were) going to be 13-3 and win the NFC East.' You'd love to be in that situation, or 16-0, or whatever it might be.
 
"I did have a feeling back then when I made that statement that we could be, we had the potential to be a good football team because of the way we've practiced and the talent that we brought to the roster and the progression of Carson in his second year.
 
"And then defensively, the front, the way they performed, and the back end, I saw a lot of the same similarities. So you just have that gut feeling when I made that statement."
 
Back in July, when Pederson made those comments comparing the Eagles to the Packers, he tempered them by saying talent isn't always enough. It takes much more for a team to have success.
 
"I (said) it takes great coaching, teaching, mentoring to also have our guys prepared each week to be in this position," Pederson said. "So all of that has kind of culminated. I think you look back on it and you go, 'Wow, maybe it was a true type of thing.'
 
"But we just keep doing our jobs, keep doing what we've been coached to do. Players play what they can do and what's in their control, and we're here today."

Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

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Only 1 Eagle questionable for Sunday

Veteran linebacker Dannell Ellerbe (hamstring) is the only Eagles player listed as questionable for this week's game. Everyone else on the 53-man roster is expected to be available. 

Ellerbe, 32, missed practice on Wednesday and was limited on Thursday and Friday. 

The Eagles' starting MIKE linebacker was also listed as questionable last week and was able to play, so expect him to be good to go. After all, this is the NFC Championship Game. There's no resting for anything else. 

In Minnesota, wide receiver Adam Thielen (lower back) and safety Andrew Sendejo (concussion) are both listed as questionable. 

Thielen, the Vikings' top receiver, missed Wednesday's practice and was limited on Thursday and Friday. Just like Ellerbe, there's no saving him for next week. 

Sendejo was limited on Wednesday and Thursday, was a full participant on Friday, but is still technically in the NFL's concussion protocol. He'll need to clear that before he's able to play, but Vikings head coach Mike Zimmer said he's optimistic Sendejo will be able to play. 

Meanwhile, third defensive tackle, Shamar Stephen (knee/ankle), missed practice all week and has been ruled out. While Stephen isn't a starter, he played just under 40 percent of the Vikings' snaps this season, so missing him is still a loss.

After practicing indoors on Wednesday and Thursday, the Eagles loaded up on buses and spent their Friday practice outside at Lincoln Financial Field. Head coach Doug Pederson likes to get his guys outside for at least one day per week. 

The Eagles will have a walkthrough on Saturday before they'll be back at the Linc for Sunday's 6:40 p.m. kickoff in the NFC Championship Game.