Zach Ertz

Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor feel pain of plays they should have made vs. Falcons

Zach Ertz, Nelson Agholor feel pain of plays they should have made vs. Falcons

ATLANTA — Zach Ertz was so close and that’s what made it hurt even worse. 

The Eagles’ Pro Bowl tight end was visibly upset after the Eagles’ heartbreaking 24-20 loss to the Falcons at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Sunday night. The Eagles went to him on fourth down from the Atlanta 16-yard line with just 38 seconds left in a one-score game. 

The Eagles needed 8 yards. 

Ertz got them 7 1/2. 

“I’m an emotional player and I feel like I kind of let my team down at the end,” Ertz said. “I tried my best and we were so close. And it’s going to hurt for a while. But I’ll be better.” 

Like Ertz, receiver Nelson Agholor also had a huge missed opportunity late in Sunday night’s game. Earlier on that final drive, Carson Wentz hit him with a beautiful deep strike down the left sideline that would have likely gone for a 60-yard touchdown. 

Agholor just dropped it. 

He lost the ball in the lights. 

“Yeah, but I still gotta make that play,” Agholor said. “It’s something that we prepared for in pregame. We were trying to track it in the light, make sure we knew how to track it. I gotta find a way to catch it all. Remember where it’s going to be and look it all the way in.”

The Eagles, of course, didn’t lose on Sunday Night Football because of the drop by Agholor or because Ertz didn’t go a half yard deeper on his route. They just hurt so much because after all the Eagles had gone through in this game, those two plays represented a chance for them to escape from Atlanta with an unlikely and hard-fought win. And it didn’t happen.  

A few years ago, when Agholor’s confidence waned, a drop like that might have sent him into a downward spiral. After Sunday’s game, he said, “That’s behind me. One hundred percent.” 

At least for Agholor, he found a little bit of redemption. Several plays after his drop, he caught a 43-yard pass on 4th-and-14 to keep the drive and hope alive. He leaped up in traffic and hauled in a pass. Agholor said he could walk away from Atlanta after making a play on the last target his way. 

Ertz didn’t get that chance. His last play left a sour taste.  

“It’s hard to not focus on that one play,” he said. “It’s the most recent play. It’ll be playing in my head a little bit the next couple days. Once I get back to work … I’m excited to get back to work.” 

Wentz said it’s important to let his receivers and tight ends know that even if they make a mistake, he’ll go right back to them. That’s exactly what happened with Agholor. And if the game kept going, he would have gone back to Ertz, too. 

In the end, Agholor and Ertz put together good games on the stat sheet: 

Agholor: 8 catches, 107 yards, 1 TD

Ertz: 8 catches, 72 yards 

But it’s the plays they didn’t make that will probably stick with them for a while. 

What’s the best way for them to get past this? 

“Just getting back to work,” Ertz said. “That’s the best way to get over something in this game, is just to get back to work and I’m looking forward to Wednesday. Thursday is when I start feeling better. And then get ready for Detroit. 

“We’re 1-1 right now. We’ve been 1-1 unfortunately multiple times in the last couple of years. The season’s not over. We played a really good team at home on Sunday Night Football and came up short. We’ll be better for this.” 

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Slow starts, backup quarterback and more in Roob's random Eagles points

Slow starts, backup quarterback and more in Roob's random Eagles points

A theory about the Eagles' slow first quarters, the No. 2 quarterback, an all-time great offensive line and lots more in this weekend's Roob's Random Eagles Observations!

But first? Five prominent players who played for both the Falcons and Eagles: Claude Humphrey, Michael Vick, Ike Reese, Mike Zandofsky and of course Ed Jasper.

OK, carry on!

1. Nobody seems to have a idea why the Eagles keep getting off to slow starts, but here’s a theory: The numbers say Doug Pederson isn’t nearly as aggressive a play caller in the first quarter as he is later in the game. Under Pederson, the Eagles have thrown the ball less in the first quarter — by far — than any other quarter. It’s 60.4 percent in the first quarter and 65.4 percent the rest of the game (including 69.0 percent in the second quarter, which could be a direct response to the slow starts.) The numbers seem to say Pederson really wants to establish the run early, but the offense doesn’t take off until he starts chucking it. Something to keep an eye on.

2. If the refs hadn’t made that horrible holding call on JJ Arcega-Whiteside, Miles Sanders would have had the longest TD run by an Eagle in his first NFL game since Charlie Garner’s 28-yarder against the 49ers in 1994 at Candlestick.

3. A lot is made of the Falcons’ home-field advantage, whether it was at the Georgia Dome or the new building, Mercedes-Benz Stadium. But interesting to note that Matt Ryan was 33-5 at home in his first five seasons, but he's 24-24 the last six. Since opening day 2013, the Falcons actually have only the 22nd-best home record in the NFL. The Eagles actually have a better road record during that span (25-23) than the Falcons have at home.

4. On an Eagle Eye podcast last week, Dave Zangaro and I shared some “bold predictions” for the 2019 season, and Dave’s was that Isaac Seumalo would make the Pro Bowl. Outrageous? Maybe not. He’s come a long, long way from the guy who got benched two years ago. He looked pretty stout in the Redskins game.

5. I like that Pederson gave a shoutout to Torrey Smith Friday after the veteran receiver announced his retirement. Smith didn’t do much during his one regular season with the Eagles — he only had more than 30 yards three times — only once after Week 5. Then came the playoffs, and Smith was huge, with 13-for-157 and that 41-yard TD in the NFC Championship Game. Three of his six biggest games of the season came in the playoffs, and he was very good in the Super Bowl, with 5-for-49. For a guy who averaged 31 yards in an Eagles uniform, he played a major role in the franchise’s only championship in the last half century. Was he a great player? Nah. But he sure was an important one. And a hell of a good guy. I wish him well in whatever's next.

6. If it was my call, Nate Sudfeld would be No. 2 when he’s healthy and not Josh McCown. I know McCown has a ton of experience, but I just trust Sudfeld more.

7. The Eagles have only started out 2-0 four times since 1994. And they only made the playoffs one of those four times — in 2004. But the last 12 times they’ve been 1-1 they’ve reached the playoffs 10 times. So if they do lose Sunday — and I don’t think they will — don’t panic!

8. Carson Wentz can really shut a lot of people up Sunday if he can beat a good team on the road early in the season. Now, we don’t know if the Falcons will finish with a winning record, but Wentz is 4-10 in 14 career starts on the road against teams that had a winning record at the end of the season. Wentz is an elite quarterback no matter what happens in Atlanta, but a big-time performance would go a long way toward winning back some of the doubters.

9. There have only been five seasons in franchise history the Eagles have allowed fewer than two sacks per game. Honestly, if this group stays healthy, I’d be surprised if they’re not in the 26-28 range at the end of the season. With this O-line? Definitely.  

10. This is kind of amazing: With his five catches Sunday, Zach Ertz passed Carroll Dale and Keith Jackson and moved into 27th place in NFL history among tight ends with 442 career catches, and he’s only 56 catches from the top 20. If he catches 80 passes this year, he’ll be 16th. If he catches another 80 next year, he’ll be 8th. He’s 28.

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'People acted like [Carson Wentz] was the worst quarterback in the NFL'

'People acted like [Carson Wentz] was the worst quarterback in the NFL'

Carson Wentz is one of the most heavily criticized players in recent Eagles history.

His crime?

Tearing up his knee late on a touchdown drive in a near-MVP season while putting the Eagles in position for home-field advantage in a Super Bowl run and then suffering a broken bone in his back when he played while his knee was still healing.

What a jerk.

This is life in the NFL, and when you were the No. 2 pick in the draft and you’re making $25 million per year and you not only haven’t taken a snap yet in the postseason but haven’t finished either of the last two seasons, the scrutiny is going to be intense.

Might not be fair. But it’s there. And for a kid who grew up in rural North Dakota, more than 400 miles from the nearest NFL city, it hasn't always been easy to take.

Wentz concedes now that the criticism got to him in the past, and he said he made up his mind this offseason to just ignore it. To let it go and just go play football.

Playing in this city you’re going to have critics,” Zach Ertz said. “Right or wrong, everyone has an opinion, it’s part of it all. Oftentimes young guys, it’s extremely difficult to come in here in an age of social media. It was difficult for me when I was young. But as you get older, as you’re here longer, you kind of just come to grips with the fact that people are just passionate about this team and winning football games.

When he's been on the field, Wentz has been extraordinary in his first 40 NFL starts.

He's one of only two quarterbacks in NFL history to throw at least 70 touchdowns and fewer than 30 interceptions in his first three years.

His 64 percent completion percentage is third-highest ever by a quarterback after three seasons, and his interception ratio, one every 52 attempts, is also third-best.

He’s one of only four QBs ever with a passer rating over 100 twice in his first three seasons.

But because of the injuries and because of the remarkable success Nick Foles had in his place, the criticism directed at him has been sharp.

He’ll never finish a season. He can’t stay healthy. He’ll never do what Nick did. He can’t carry a team. He’s just going to get hurt again.

“Obviously, there’s stuff that’s out there,” Wentz said. “And really since I came into the league I try to avoid social media and those types of things. But I think finally … really I just kind of said, ‘Screw it, I’m not even going to look at it at all.’”

Wentz on Sunday will make his third opening-day start for the Eagles. By the time he’s done, he’ll hold every Eagles passing record in the books.

Heck, he’s already seventh in franchise history in TD passes, sixth in passing yards and fifth in wins.

And he’s 26.

But he’s a quarterback in a major metropolitan market, and that means he’s going to hear about it when he messes up. And sometimes when he doesn’t.  

The criticism from anybody and everybody … that’s just kind of part of this game and for me when I started to kind of hear those voices a little bit that was something that when I got hurt last year I finally just kind of had to let it all go and then realize that I can’t control what people think, what they say, what they write,” Wentz said. “It doesn’t really matter to me. I realize I play this game for a bigger purpose. So it was kind of all just freeing this offseason going through everything and just remembering again that there’s a bigger purpose.

This is an intense media market with a rabid fan base and one NFL title in the last half century.

It’s not an easy place to play. But as we all saw two years ago, when you win and win big, you become a folk hero.  

Wentz has only finished 11 of 25 games the Eagles have played since December 2017, and it hasn’t been easy for him to watch from the bench.

The criticism — some of it anonymously from at least one teammate, allegedly — only made it worse.

I think he’s handled it great,” Ertz said. “From the outside it doesn’t seem like it impacts him, it’s not like he’s getting shorter with teammates or going into a shell even though he’s had to deal with all this stuff. … Quarterbacks are often judged, right or wrong, based on the team’s success and it doesn’t matter if he goes out there and throws for 400 yards. Statistically, last year was one of the best seasons anybody’s ever had around here, but people acted like he was the worst quarterback in the NFL. That’s the way people were perceiving it because we just weren’t winning games. I think 10 years ago the biggest adjustment (coming into the NFL) was probably the speed of the game, meetings and a lot of other factors. Now it’s dealing with social media and the constant stuff that's out there.

Ertz and Wentz are extremely close, and a lot of what Wentz has been going through Ertz endured early in his career.

Now, Ertz is a Super Bowl hero, a two-time Pro Bowler and a record-setting pass receiver.

And enjoying the kind of popularity Wentz will once he proves he can carry a team deep into the postseason.

It never really seemed like on the outside it was hurting him too much,” Ertz said. “He was trying to become a better player. Even when that big (PhillyVoice) story came out last year, it was like, ‘Even if this is 1 percent true how can I become 1 percent better as a teammate?’ He’s always going to be much harder on himself than anybody else is.

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