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.”