With 10 catches, Zach Ertz gets some redemption after a trying week

With 10 catches, Zach Ertz gets some redemption after a trying week

Zach Ertz heard everything that was said about him last weekend. And he went into Sunday’s game against the Redskins determined to prove that the guy who avoided a block on Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict isn’t the real Zach Ertz.

“I don’t know if my teammates felt that I let them down by any means, but I wanted to prove to them that I wasn’t going to let them down ever again,” Ertz said.

“Obviously, there was a lot of noise. I know that. Everybody knew that. I was just going to go out and try to be the best teammate that I could be. Being physical. Being physical after the catch. Being physical in the run game. And hopefully I did that for them.”

Ertz didn’t have a perfect game Sunday, but you can’t question his effort.

His illegal block in the back penalty — and it was a borderline call — wiped out a Darren Sproles punt return touchdown. And he said he could have gotten better position on a Carson Wentz pass in the first quarter that Deshazor Everett picked off in the end zone.

But Ertz had his biggest receiving day of the year, with 10 catches for 112 yards, and he did play tough, with yards after the catch and a couple big plays down the field.

It was a rough week for Ertz after the Burfict play went viral. His decision to avoid contact with Burfict on a Carson Wentz scramble was analyzed and dissected all week.

“I'm sure it probably affected him personally, and he wanted to sort of redeem (himself) and get back out on the field and do what he can do,” head coach Doug Pederson said.

“Obviously I thought he did a nice job. ... He really stepped up and did a nice job this week. He had a great week of practice.”

Ertz said he prayed a lot in the wake of the Bengals game and came into Sunday’s game against the Redskins with a clear mind.

“Everyone deals with adversity in different ways,” he said. “I am not going to let one play define my career — good or bad.

“Obviously there was a lot of hoopla surrounding that play last week and I just wanted to tell my teammates that I got their back regardless of what is going on, on the outside.

“I was focused on being the best tight end I could be today and being the best teammate I could be. I think I did that today.”

Ertz and Wentz got off to a slow start this year.

In his first five games — remember, he missed the Bears and Steelers games — Ertz had just 15 catches for 150 yards and no touchdowns.

In six games since, he has 42 catches for 414 yards and two TDs. Over the last six games, Ertz has the most catches in the NFL by a tight end and fifth-most overall.

“We are learning on the fly, just like all the skill guys,” Ertz said of his football relationship with Wentz. “We didn’t really get a lot of reps during the preseason so everything has been kind of building and building with a lot of the guys.

“Jordan (Matthews) has kind of picked his game up. Trey (Burton) has had a couple of great weeks. I thought I picked my game up and I think we are going to continue to build.

“Carson’s a heck of a talent and we have a lot of talent at the skill positions. The most important thing between a wide receiver (or) tight end and quarterback is the chemistry and having the trust to be where you are supposed to be when you’re supposed to be there and that just happens over time.

“People made a big deal that I wasn’t getting the ball at the beginning, but we are putting in the work each and every day.”

It’s kind of an odd statistical quirk that the five biggest games of Ertz’s career have come in December (or January).

Over the past three years, Ertz has the fourth-most December catches in the NFL (71), behind only Antonio Brown, Jarvis Landry and Odell Beckham.

His 740 yards in 10 December games are ninth-most in the NFL since 2014 and most by any tight end.

You can chalk that up to Ertz's having to get used to a different quarterback every year. He’s in only his fourth year but has already played with Michael Vick, Nick Foles, Mark Sanchez, Sam Bradford and Wentz.

It seems like by the end of each season, Ertz has built up enough chemistry with his new quarterback to flourish.

“Opportunities,” Ertz said. “It’s hard to catch the ball when you have a couple targets. I was trying to get open to the best of my ability (earlier in the year), but December has kind of been the month where the hard work pays off.

“I work extremely hard to stay on top of my body throughout the year, and I don’t know if that has something to do with it or it’s just that we get in passing situations or what it is, but that’s just how it’s been the last couple years.”

The bottom line is that the Eagles haven’t reached the playoffs since Ertz’s rookie year, and they haven’t won a playoff game since 2008, when he was in high school.

The 27-22 loss to the Redskins Sunday at the Linc dropped the Eagles to 5-8 and left them one loss from a second straight losing season, something they haven’t had since 1997 and 1998.

“It’s tough,” Ertz said. “You play the game to get to the playoffs and give yourself a chance at the Super Bowl.

“That’s what the fans expet, that’s what the fans deserve. So every time you come up short it hurts. I kow it hurts them, but it hurts us even more.”

The strange, sad tale of Sidney Jones grows even stranger

The strange, sad tale of Sidney Jones grows even stranger

The strange odyssey of Sidney Jones grows even stranger.

With Orlando Scandrick released, Cre’Von LeBlanc not eligible to return from Injured Reserve until Monday and Avonte Maddox still in concussion protocol, Jones is the only logical candidate to play in the slot for the Eagles Sunday against the Bills.

Yes, the same Sidney Jones who was benched Sunday in Dallas and never got off the bench.

Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz met with the media on Tuesday but declined to confirm that Jones will be the Eagles' starting slot corner Sunday in Buffalo.

"We’ll see," Schwartz said. “He can play that position. Obviously, Malcolm (Jenkins) can play that position … and then sometime we’ll ... get Cre’Von and Avonte back too, so we’ve got a lot of different players who can play in that position, but Sid started last year in that position and was able to hold that position, so we have confidence that whoever we put in there will be able to accomplish that role.

To recap:

Jones began the season rotating with Rasul Douglas opposite Ronald Darby.
He started three games after Darby got hurt.
He left the Packers game early with a hamstring injury.
He missed the Jets game with the hamstring.
He had a nightmarish game in the loss to the Vikings.
He was benched Sunday for the Cowboys.

Now he’s most likely your slot. Temporarily.

Jalen Mills and Douglas started outside Sunday night in Dallas with Scandrick in the slot. But the Eagles released Scandrick on Monday.

On Sunday, Mills and Douglas or Darby will start in Buffalo. Douglas and Darby don’t play in the slot, and Jones and Craig James are the only other healthy corners on the roster.

How far has Jones fallen in the Eagles’ cornerback hierarchy?

In the Cowboys game, it was James who got a handful of snaps outside while Jones — active and in uniform — stayed on the sidelines.

"He was in a backup role," Schwartz said. “We had an injury outside just for a couple plays. Craig was backing up the outside and he was backing up the inside, so he still had a role.

So Jones, the 43rd pick in the 2017 draft, is now behind an undrafted 23-year-old street free agent who has had two stints on the practice squad this year and has already been released once this year by the Eagles.

And after playing 175 snaps of outside cornerback the first month and a half of the season and 52 snaps outside just seven days earlier, he apparently suddenly lost the ability to play outside corner because he practiced inside during the week.

Jones wasn’t in the locker room on Tuesday while it was open to the media.

Jones is only 23. His career has been marked by inconsistency, injuries and now a benching. 

Now he’s a backup at a position where the Eagles’ two best options are about to return in the next couple weeks, and he’s not even practicing at the position he began the season.

This isn’t trending in the right direction.

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More on the Eagles

This has been Eagles' most embarrassing week since Chip Kelly's final days

This has been Eagles' most embarrassing week since Chip Kelly's final days

Had an Eagles team that entered the season with Super Bowl aspirations merely lost 37-10 in Dallas, people would rightly be pissed.

But this wasn’t just some blowout on the football field. It was the climax to the most embarrassing week for the Eagles organization since the Chip Kelly days — a humiliation felt inside the locker room, by the coaching staff and all the way up to the front office.

At least, you hope it was the climax. To recap, in the span of nine days:

• Zach Brown talked trash on Minnesota’s quarterback.

• The Eagles got dropped 38-20 by Minnesota.

• Coach Doug Pederson proclaimed “we’re gonna win” in Dallas.

• The Eagles cut Brown.

• After a weeks-long pursuit, the Rams, not the Eagles, traded for Jalen Ramsey.

• An anonymous Eagles player talked trash on Carson Wentz.

• The Eagles got crushed in Dallas.

• Lane Johnson claimed teammates are late for practices and meetings.

• A reporter claimed the anonymous Eagles player is Alshon Jeffery.

• The Eagles were accused of leaking the information to said reporter.

Am I missing anything? You could certainly point to some individual plays that stand out — the ridiculous fake field goal, blown coverage after blown coverage and whatever Sidney Jones was doing in Minnesota; or Malcolm Jenkins getting run over and Nelson Agholor’s “effort” in Dallas.

Blowouts happen, occasionally even to good teams. They can become rallying points, as we saw last season after the Eagles got smoked 48-7 in New Orleans, then proceeded to win six of seven games en route to a playoff rematch.

Blowouts in back-to-back weeks, on the other hand, are often a sign of far deeper fractures.

In the fog of everything else happening around the Eagles, the feeling at this very specific moment in time is more akin to Kelly’s final season in 2015, right after the team got rolled 45-17 by Tampa Bay and 45-14 by Detroit in consecutive weeks.

Jason Peters was pulling himself out of games left and right. DeMarco Murray was sliding rather than fighting for extra yards — and being criticized for it by an anonymous teammate. High-priced free agent cornerback Byron Maxwell was getting beat like a drum on the reg. Riley Cooper was still on the team despite using a racial slur two years earlier. Opponents routinely said they knew the Eagles’ plays before the offense ran them. And after winning an offseason power struggle with Howie Roseman, Kelly reshaped the team in his image, trading LeSean McCoy for Kiko Alonso and Nick Foles for Sam Bradford, among other head-scratchers.

Surely, that was a more embarrassing period of Eagles football than this. And yet, you don’t have to strain your eyes too hard to find some parallels.

That season ended with Kelly’s firing prior to the finale. I seriously doubt anything so drastic will happen here. Roseman and Pederson built a lot more cache after guiding the Eagles to a Super Bowl championship two years ago.

However, if the Eagles don’t turn things around on and off the football field this season, Roseman and Pederson will be facing some uncomfortable questions. And while it’s easy to make the cases that Roseman assembled an aging roster, that he hasn’t drafted well enough through the years, that it really shows when everybody keeps getting hurt, and that Pederson and his staff haven’t developed young players or properly used the “talent” at their disposal, there is potentially a much larger issue here.

How is it the core of a football team that went 13-3 and won it all with one of the most harmonious, accountable locker rooms you’ll ever see has become so unglued, with teammates ripping their own franchise quarterback going back to last season, and looks so unprepared to play on such alarmingly regular basis?

These seem more like the hallmarks of a Chip Kelly team, but for the last week-and-a-half, the only discernible difference is the Eagles aren’t being peppered with questions about their blatant disregard for time of possession.

NFL seasons are deceptively long, so it's plausible the Eagles plug the leaks and right the ship in the 10 weeks that remain, even reach the postseason. But if they don't, somebody will need to answer for this level of dysfunction.