Zach Ertz caught five passes for a career-high 68 yards and two touchdowns in the Eagles' 24-21 win over the Cardinals. (AP)
They knew what they had to do. They were reminded of it all week.
Brent Celek and Zach Ertz knew that for the Eagles to beat the Cards Sunday, they had to come up big.
“We knew this was our opportunity and we had to take advantage of it,” Celek said. “We knew coming into this game we had to play well.”
The Cards have struggled covering tight ends all year, and the Eagles made that a big part of their game plan Sunday in their crucial game against Arizona.
Ertz and Celek combined for nine catches for 97 yards and scored all three of the Eagles’ touchdowns Sunday in their fourth straight win, 24-21 over the Cards at the Linc (see Instant Replay).
Ertz had five catches for a career-high 68 yards and two touchdowns, and Celek caught four passes for 29 yards and a touchdown.
It’s the first time in 24 years Eagles tight ends have caught three touchdown passes in a game. Keith Jackson caught three in the Eagles’ historic 42-37 comeback win over the Redskins at RFK Stadium on Sept. 17, 1989.
“I felt like we had good matchups with our tight ends against their linebackers,” Nick Foles said. “Their linebackers are very talented, but they’re bigger guys. They’re very good at stopping the run, and the have a big defensive line that really wants to generate pressure, but I liked our matchup with our tight ends, and I thought they did a great job today.”
It was clear from the start what the Eagles wanted to do.
Foles’ first three passes went to Celek, and his fourth went to Ertz for a 16-yard touchdown.
“Fortunately, the tight ends got our number called this game,” Ertz said. “DeSean [Jackson] and Riley [Cooper] have been huge playmakers for this team and we needed to take pressure off them.”
On a day when Jackson caught just three passes for 36 yards and Cooper was 3 for 48, the tight ends were huge.
Ertz became the first Eagle tight end with two TD catches in a game since Celek had two in the 2008 NFC Championship Game against the Cards in Glendale, Ariz., and the first to do it in a regular-season game since Chad Lewis had two against the Giants at the Vet on the final day of the 2001 season.
He’s only the sixth Eagles rookie in the last 60 years with two TD catches in a game, joining Charlie Young vs. the Patriots in 1973, Jackson vs. the Rams in 1988, Fred Barnett vs. the Cards in 1990, Reggie Brown vs. the Redskins in 2006 and Jeremy Maclin vs. the Buccaneers.
Jackson 25 years ago was the last Eagles rookie tight end with a multiple-TD game (see 10 observations).
“Just thought we had some plays in there to the tight ends, get them in base personnel and then try to take advantage of that, and those guys did,” head coach Chip Kelly said. “Those guys contributed, and we feel like we have three that are talented, and when the matchups present themselves, we can exploit it.”
Celek (23 for 319, four TDs) and Ertz (26 for 342, three TDs) have a combined 49 receptions for 661 yards and seven touchdowns. You can throw James Casey’s 3 for 31 in there if you like.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself to make every play when the ball is thrown to me,” Ertz said. “Early in the year I had a drop or two, but I think I’m getting more comfortable. The game’s kind of slowing down and I’ve been able to make some plays.”
Ertz is on pace for 456 receiving yards, which would be the most by an Eagles rookie tight end since Jackson had 869 in 1988.
“He’s a great player, and he’s going to continue to get better,” Celek said. “Every game you just see him improve and improve and improve. He’s going to be a great player in this league for a long time.”
Celek and Ertz are both on pace for 30 receptions. The Eagles have never had two tight ends catch 30 balls in the same season.
“Brent and James have both been huge mentors for me,” Ertz said. “I’m kind of like the little brother of the group right now. It’s kind of a family in the tight end room. They take good care of me.
“Every now and then, I’ll get down on myself and those two will bring me back up.”