BY DAVE CAMPBELL
MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Zach Ertz went out wide in the formation in yet another play-calling twist by Philadelphia coach Doug Pederson, facing one-on-one coverage from New England safety Devin McCourty with the Patriots leading the Eagles by one point late in the fourth quarter of the Super Bowl.
Ertz cut inside on a slant pattern, causing McCourty to stumble and trail the route, and moved into perfect position to catch the pass from Nick Foles and launch his body across the goal line with 2:21 left .
The NFL’s frequently contested and often confusing process-of-the-catch rule left some doubt for the Eagles, with a nerve-wracking wait for the replay review to confirm the touchdown before the Eagles were officially in the lead.
There’s no mystery about this, though: Ertz has turned himself into one of the league’s elite tight ends.
“He just really had a solid year, all the way around,” right tackle Lane Johnson said. “He really improved on his blocking this offseason, took a lot of things to heart. Just became a better football player, man, and caught that touchdown there at the end. I just couldn’t be happier for him. He works his tail off.”
Ertz had seven catches for 67 yards to help Foles and the Eagles outlast the Patriots 41-33 in a Super Bowl that featured the most combined yardage gained in the history of the NFL in the modern era.
The most important of the nine times Foles threw his way was that play that culminated with the ball popping up in the air after Ertz landed on the green Eagles paint in the end zone.
Ertz caught it on the ricochet, but the key for the legality of the play was going to be whether he turned himself into a runner before crossing the plane or if he was still in the process of making the catch. The former was the ruling.
“That seemed like an eternity over there. I mean, if they overturn that, I don’t even know what’s a catch anymore,” Ertz said.
“I had three steps in the ground. I extended for it. My back leg dragged on the ground. The city of Philly would’ve been hot if they’d have overturned that. Luckily for our city they did not.”
With a career-high eight touchdown catches with 824 receiving yards in 14 games during the regular season, Ertz came through with the kind of performance that he needed after a trying year for both him and the team in 2016.
During a December defeat that season in Cincinnati, Pederson said afterward that not all of his players gave maximum effort. Ertz was caught on camera sliding through a pair of Bengals defenders , including hard-hitting linebacker Vontaze Burfict, during one play while quarterback Carson Wentz scrambled out of bounds.
“I never really shied away from that situation I had to endure. There were some people that would say it was definitely just. It was tough. I love that the fans never gave up on me,” Ertz said. “I told them at the time that they would never question my effort again, and I’m lucky to be in this situation playing for this city, and I never take it for granted.”
With Rob Gronkowski on the other side, Ertz was automatically going to be the bridesmaid tight end in this game , despite his emergence as one of the NFL’s best.
Now Ertz will not only have the Super Bowl ring that Gronkowski already possessed in double, but he’ll be able to catch up in the trophy case at home. His wife, Julie Ertz, has a World Cup championship from 2015 for the U.S. national soccer team . They were married last March.
“She’s just so happy for me,” Ertz said, adding: “Our marriage is extremely strong even though we’re pulled in 1,000 different directions.”
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