Philadelphia Eagles

Mychal Kendricks among NFL players to still make scrutinized trip to Israel

Mychal Kendricks among NFL players to still make scrutinized trip to Israel

JERUSALEM — It was supposed to be a feel-good visit by a group of professional football players to give a boost to image-conscious Israel.

But in an embarrassing fumble by the Israeli government, only five of 11 NFL players in the delegation showed up after being blitzed by Palestinian activists opposed to the visit.

Israel's ministry for strategic affairs and public diplomacy issued a press release after the Super Bowl boasting that the visit would bring "influencers" who would serve as "goodwill ambassadors" when they returned home.

The announcement led Seattle Seahawks defense lineman Michael Bennett to pull out. In a lengthy Twitter post, he accused the government of trying to use him for PR purposes and cited sympathy for the Palestinians.

"I will not be used in such a manner," he wrote, adding that he still intends to visit Israel, but only on a trip that includes stops in the West Bank and Gaza Strip to meet Palestinians.

Citing the example of Muhammad Ali, and the late boxing legend's support for the Palestinians, Bennett said he too wants to be a "voice for the voiceless."

"I cannot do that by going on this kind of trip to Israel," he said.

Several others players followed suit, and at the delegation's first official stop on Tuesday at Rambam Hospital in Haifa, only five players were present, said hospital spokesman David Ratner. He said the players were given a tour of the hospital and shown a presentation of a device developed by one of Rambam's researchers that detects concussions in real time.

Among those who also dropped out were Bennett's brother Martellus, of the Super Bowl champion New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins receiver Kenny Stills, Seahawks' Cliff Avril, San Francisco 49er Carlos Hyde and Justin Forsett of the Denver Broncos.

Public Diplomacy Minister Gilad Erdan, whose office spearheaded the visit, had enthusiastically promoted it, saying the NFL players would help boost Israel's image and counter the influence of an international boycott movement.

"I hope that, through their visit, they will get a balanced picture of Israel, the opposite from the false incitement campaign that is being waged against Israel around the world," he said. "I hope that the players will present the beautiful face of Israel to their tens of millions of fans in the United States."

But since Bennett's post on Saturday, the ministry has gone silent. After promising various updates on the delegation, Revital Yakin-Karkovsky, the executive director for communications and strategy in the ministry, said Wednesday it would not comment on the visit. The Tourism Ministry and the nonprofit America's Voices in Israel organization, which were also involved in the planning, have also distanced themselves.

The five players who did make the trip — Delanie Walker of the Tennessee Titans, Mychal Kendricks of the Eagles, Cameron Jordan of the New Orleans Saints, Calais Campbell of the Arizona Cardinals and Dan Williams of the Oakland Raiders — have also noticeably kept quiet on social media.

The only evidence of the visit is an Instagram video of Kendricks from a local restaurant, where he sings along to Marvin Gaye's "Let's get it on" and asks locals to say hello to the camera in Hebrew.

An open letter published in The Nation that was signed by pro-Palestinian activists and supporters such as Harry Belafonte, Danny Glover and Alice Walker had urged the players to skip the trip.

"The Israeli government sought to use these NFL players, who have tremendous platforms due to their popularity, in an effort to whitewash Israel's ongoing denial of Palestinian rights," said Yousef Munayyer, director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, who initiated the open letter. "It was heartening to see so many players choose not to sit on the sidelines but instead to stand on the right side of history."

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

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USA Today Images

Eagles tight end Zach Ertz grateful Jake Elliott 'saved my butt'

Zach Ertz was sitting in the locker next to Brent Celek after the game and at one point he leaned over to his teammate and said simply, "Thank God we won that game."

Because if the Eagles lost Sunday, Ertz would have been the goat.

Ertz had one of the tougher games of his career Sunday, with a costly fourth-quarter fumble that led to a game-tying Giants touchdown and also a dropped touchdown when he was wide open, although he did make up for that by catching a TD one play later.

"It sucks," Ertz said. "If we lost that game, I would have been in the dumpster."

Ertz, covered all day by Landon Collins, one of the NFL's best safeties, did catch eight passes for 55 yards and his first touchdown of the year in the Eagles' wild 27-24 win over the Giants at the Linc (see observations).

The fumble was only the third of his five-year career. That's three fumbles out of 268 receptions.

"The guy made a great play," Ertz said. "I was trying to gain some more yards after the catch, and he kind of just reached around and pulled my arm down and I fumbled. 

"I've got to work on ball security, something I'm going to emphasize this week. I've had (three) fumbles in my career, so I'm not going to over-think it, but at the end of the day, I've got to do better."

Ertz's last fumble came in a loss to the Redskins in December of 2015, forced by Bashaud Breeland and recovered by Dashon Goldson. That was Chip Kelly's final game as Eagles head coach.

His only other fumble came in a loss to the 49ers in San Francisco in 2014.

"I've never seen Darren Sproles fumble, and he fumbled last week, so it's going to happen if you play long enough in the NFL," Ertz said. "All you can do is work on it. Luckily, Jake (Elliott) saved my butt."

The end zone drop came with the Eagles up 7-0 in the third quarter. Wentz could have taken a little steam off the football, but it was still a ball Ertz should catch.

"I couldn't get my hands up fast enough," he said. "The linebacker flashed before me and the ball just kind of snuck up on me, kind of like what happened against the Redskins last year. 

"Luckily, came back the next play and I was able to make a much tougher catch."

Even on a bad day, Ertz still caught eight passes, and he's now second in the NFL with 21 receptions, five behind Antonio Brown. He's also 10th with 245 yards. Both numbers lead all NFL tight ends.

“With a guy like Zach, we know who he is," Wentz said. "Those mistakes don’t happen often. 

"That first ball I definitely threw it harder than it needed to be, and it kind of surprised him a little bit. We came right back to him, and that was huge. 

"I know with a guy like that, confidence is never going to go anywhere, and my confidence in him never is either. The fumble is one of those things you brush off and come right back to him. The guy made some great plays for us today.”

Ertz's 21 receptions are fourth-most in Eagles history after three games and seventh-most ever by any NFL tight end after three games.

Ertz has now played the equivalent of four full seasons in his career, and his 268 catches are seventh-most ever by a tight end after 64 games.

Most importantly, his five catches, 55 yards and touchdown against the Giants Sunday helped the Eagles knock off a division opponent and find their way to 2-1. 

“Last year we didn’t have a lot of wins (in) adverse situations like we faced today," Ertz said. "We weren’t perfect today, anybody in our division is not going to be perfect. But I think it showed a lot about our resilience today and overcoming adverse situations."

Eagles Injury Update: Darren Sproles tore ACL, broke arm on same play

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Associated Press

Eagles Injury Update: Darren Sproles tore ACL, broke arm on same play

Still riding high after a crazy win on Sunday, the Eagles got some bad news the next morning. 

Darren Sproles is done for the season. Maybe for his career. 

Sproles tore his ACL and broke his forearm on the same play on Sunday afternoon at the Linc. The play came early in the second quarter. It first looked like Sproles hurt his knee and was then kicked on his right wrist on the way down. 

ESPN first reported the story. Head coach Doug Pederson announced it at his press conference Monday afternoon. "Double whammy on the play," Pederson said. 

Pederson said the Eagles will likely make a corresponding roster move in the next couple of days. The Eagles started their season with five running backs on the roster but after losing Donnel Pumphrey and now Sproles, they're down to just three. Practice squad player Byron Marshall is a possible roster replacement. 

Sproles will have surgery on his arm on Monday and surgery on his knee later, per the ESPN report. 

The 34-year-old running back once said this would be his final NFL season but then backed off those comments when asked this summer. 

"We're gonna see," he said in June. "Right after we make the playoffs, then come back and ask me." 

It's possible Sproles' career is over, but it's also possible he'll try to make a comeback so his career doesn't end like this. 

After picking up 11 rushing yards on Sunday before leaving the game, Sproles now has 19,155 all-purpose yards in his career. That's the eighth most in NFL history. 

Pederson called the loss of Sproles "devastating" from a special teams aspect. In his absence on Sunday, Torrey Smith took over as the Eagles' punt returner. Smith tweeted after the game that he hasn't returned punts since high school.

"[Smith] has done it in practice in his past," Pederson said. "He's definitely a sure-handed guy back there so he's right now the next guy up." 

Pederson said Fletcher Cox (calf) and Jordan Hicks (ankle), who were both injured in the game, are "OK" but are still day to day.