The last route Zach Ertz ran Sunday night had to be his favorite. All by himself, no seconds left on the clock, the Super Bowl in his immediate future, the Eagles tight end took a solo lap around Lincoln Financial Field.
"Jubilation — reflecting on the year,'' Ertz said of the thoughts running through his head. "No one kind of picked us. We lost kind of of everyone. We have an all-pro team on the IR. So it's crazy. I think you can tell how much we love playing with each other and how much we love the game of football."
By the end of the first half, the Linc already delirious, some facts had become obvious. Among its many other problems in Sunday's NFC Championship game, the vaunted Minnesota Vikings defense couldn't figure out a way to deal with either Eagles wide receiver Alshon Jeffery or Ertz wherever the tight end lined up.
The first sustained Eagles drive of the evening included five completed Nick Foles passes. The first was to Jeffery, the next two to Ertz, another to Jeffery, the last to Ertz. On that drive, the big throws were to Ertz. Third and ten and the score tied, 7-7, Ertz lined up in the left slot and got 11 yards on single coverage. Next play, he lined up right and added nine more yards with another catch. Third and one, Foles found Ertz for another first down. That pass was the last Foles pass of the night where the Eagles weren't in front.
At the very end of the half, Ertz basically threw another three points on the pile, bumping a Vikings safety aside and going past him for an easy pitch-and-catch with Foles for 36 yards, The play took eight seconds, which left 15 seconds before halftime, enough time for one more play and a 38-yard Jake Elliott field goal that took the Eagles into halftime with a 24-7 lead.
Considering the Eagles had gotten the ball at their 20-yard line with 29 seconds left in the half, that seemed like piling on, the party already starting.
Late in the the third quarter, Ertz had another third-and-throw-it-to-me play, right after Minnesota failed to score. His conversion revved up the drive, which ultimately turned into the first score of the fourth quarter, putting the Eagles up 38-7.
"They did exactly what they always do — just kind of play man coverage and allow that [defensive] front to go to work and use their AA blitzes to their advantage,'' Ertz said. "We have a lot of good players on offense. Any time we're able to protect the quarterback, which our O-line typically does, we're going to be successful. They played great tonight."
Jeffery had maybe the highlight pass play, on yet another third down play. (At one point, the Eagles were 8 of 10 on third-down conversions). Foles stood up to inside pressure while Jeffery got far behind the Vikings' secondary, making a 53-yard reception look easy. That one put the Eagles up 21-7.
The New England Patriots will need to deal with No. 17; the guy who signed from the Bears as a free agent; who picked the Eagles over the Vikings, among other suitors; who is in the playoffs for the first time in six years in the league; and who will show up at the Super Bowl as a star.
Ertz, you may have heard, is part of one of the highest-achieving marriages in sports. His wife, Julie, is an indispensable player for the U.S. women's national soccer team. Her squad happened to be playing Denmark last night at the same time as this one. She happened to score a goal. But that was just an exhibition — guaranteed she was thinking more about her husband's night than he was wondering about how his wife's night was going.
Julie Ertz already has reached the summit of her sport, making the all-tournament team when the United States won the 2015 Women's World Cup.
Her husband? He's going to the Super Bowl, and not as some bit player, but as receiver who must be dealt with. In the locker room, Ertz was shown videotape of his wife's reaction when she was told what had gone down at the Linc.