PHILADELPHIA — Minnesota Vikings coach Mike Zimmer was talking about the Philadelphia Eagles‘ offense during a conference call on Wednesday afternoon. He mentioned wide receivers Alshon Jeffery and Nelson Agholor by name. He noted the Eagles’ tight ends and running backs are tough. Their offensive line is good.
Zimmer never mentioned tight end Zach Ertz by name. It probably wasn’t a sign of disrespect. The tape speaks volumes, and the Vikings surely know they will need to keep close tabs on Ertz in the NFC Championship Game on Sunday (6:40 p.m. ET, Fox) at Lincoln Financial Field.
Ertz led the Eagles in catches and yards and was tied for second on the team in touchdowns this season. He also made one of the biggest plays in the fourth quarter of Saturday’s 15-10 playoff win over the Atlanta Falcons.
Ertz made a tough third-and-7 catch that moved the Eagles into field-goal range. They kicked a field goal several minutes later to extend their lead to five points. It was needed, especially with the Falcons driving deep into Philadelphia territory before coming up short in the final minutes.
Ertz is making a point in his fifth professional season.
“Third down, I want to be the guy,” said Ertz, who made his first Pro Bowl this season. “Third down, divisional round, I want to be the guy who gets their number called.”
He did, and it paid off for the Eagles. They went to their unassuming top receiver in one of the biggest spots of their season to date.
Ertz doesn’t spike the ball or party like Rob Gronkowski. He doesn’t celebrate or play with the flare of Travis Kelce. But he produces like them. Ertz ranked in the top three among tight ends in catches (74), yards (824) and touchdowns (8) this season. He’s second in catches and yards over the past two seasons, and is tied for fourth in touchdowns.
It has taken Ertz a while to reach this point. He was skewered for his blocking and physicality in the past — particularly in a game last season against the Cincinnati Bengals — but he’s improved this season. He also handles it all differently.
“I still hear that stuff from the Cincinnati game last year,” he said. “Two years ago, it would have ate me. But live in this city and you’re going to develop extremely tough skin, what I’ve learned. I’ve rallied around guys in the locker room. They’ve definitely changed the way I look at life over the past year or so. Obviously, that week was not easy for me, but it’s something I embraced. It’s something that definitely changed my outlook of the game. I’m definitely a better player because of it.”
Ertz, 27, has changed the narrative. The Eagles and their fans know what type of player he has become. Ertz had the seventh-best-selling jersey in the NFL this week, according to the Dick’s Sporting Goods Jersey Report.
“I put a lot of pride in what I do as a receiver in [big] situations,” he said, “using my body when we need to make a play. If the ball comes to me, great, I’m going to make the play. If not, I’m all for throwing the ball to Alshon, Nelson or [tight end] Trey Burton. That is why we have those amazing players on our team, so nobody is able to focus on one guy.”
Ertz may have come up clutch late on Sunday, but it wasn’t his most productive game. He caught three passes on five targets for 32 yards against the Falcons.
There is another tough matchup facing Ertz and quarterback Nick Foles on Sunday. The Vikings allowed the third-fewest yards and second-fewest touchdowns to tight ends this season.
Ertz acknowledged the transition from Carson Wentz to Foles wasn’t easy. Foles was injured much of this summer. The Eagles receivers were fully immersed in getting on the same page as Wentz. They had to apply the same focus with Foles last month.
The bye week was “huge,” according to Ertz. It provided some time for the receivers and their quarterback to get extra reps. The hope now is that it pays off in an even bigger spot on Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, because the Eagles are likely going to need clutch plays from their top receiver against the Vikings.
Maybe then Zimmer will start his summation of the Eagles’ offense by mentioning Ertz.