Brent Celek caught a short Carson Wentz pass, turned upfield and flat-out trucked Denver linebacker Brandon Marshall, Celek trundling for a 15-yard gain on the Eagles’ second series of the afternoon.
A low rumble of appreciation arose from the Lincoln Financial Field stands, like in the old days, when the catches were more frequent and the passes were arriving from Donovan McNabb or Michael Vick. Back then, Celek used to sometimes hurdle defenders who went low. Now he just tries to power through them.
Celek, the last Eagle standing who has won a playoff game here, had to step up when the team’s leading receiver, fellow tight end Zach Ertz, decided he couldn’t make a go of it Sunday with a hamstring problem that arose during Thursday’s practice. Celek and the other remaining tight end, Trey Burton, combined for five catches, 80 yards and a touchdown against what had been the No. 1 defense in the NFL, all those catches coming before halftime of what became a 51-23 demolition of the Denver Broncos.
“It felt good,” Celek said after contributing three catches for 39 yards to a game that was over early, the Birds leading 31-9 at the break. “I love this city. We’ve got a good team this year. We’ve just gotta keep this thing going.”
Celek has played 168 NFL games, all as an Eagle. He is the franchise’s fourth-all-time-leading receiver, with 392 catches, but he is mainly a blocker now, hasn’t really been a prime target since, say, 2012, when Celek caught 57 passes for 684 yards. He last scored a touchdown in 2015. He took a pay cut last offseason when management said it needed cap room. He’d totaled four receptions for 33 yards this season, before taking the field against the Broncos.
“In practice, I pretty much got a good amount of the reps for Thursday and Friday, so I felt pretty confident,” said Celek, who turns 33 in January. “When [Ertz] wasn’t able to go, he’s our guy; Trey and I have to be able to step up.”
Asked about his changing role over the years, Celek said: “If you want to be a team player, if you want to still be a part of this organization, you’ve got to do those types of things. Obviously, I could have gone in a different direction. That’s not something I wanted to do. I love this place.”
After Sunday’s effort, as Celek was walking into the shower area, center Jason Kelce yelled that Celek had just bought himself two more seasons here.
“I was just happy to see Brent Celek out there like the old Brent Celek … catching balls,” Kelce said. “I think he just cemented that he’s got more gas left in the tank than I think everybody was giving him credit for.”
Doug Pederson said the Eagles “wanted to utilize the tight ends like we do every week. We’ve got a lot of confidence in Trey and Brent.”
“I’m not surprised, by any means,” Ertz said. “Whatever the team asks him to do, he’s going to do it – him and Trey.”
Burton had left the locker room by the time reporters were admitted Sunday. He played a more varied role than Celek, Burton often split wide or put in motion. Burton was lined up outside on his 27-yard touchdown catch, also against the unfortunate Marshall, which Ertz anticipated from the sideline, putting his arms up before the ball was thrown.
“I knew — I saw the matchup, I knew the play. I had my earpiece in my ear. I saw [Marshall] walk out on him, I knew he had no chance,” Ertz said.
There was some drama as to whether the catch was a catch – Burton eventually trapped the ball against his legs as he rolled out of bounds in the end zone – but the Eagles’ eighth tight-end touchdown of the season held up through review, Burton’s second of the year and the third of his four-season career.
Wentz said the Eagles only had to tinker with “some formations and stuff” when Ertz couldn’t go. “Nothing too major.”
Wentz said having two veterans ready to go made it easier.
“Having Celek and having Trey, those guys, first of all, are smart, and know everyone’s positions, so that helps. You can just plug them in. But not only are they smart, they’re talented … They made some big plays today,” Wentz said.
“I tried, but I just couldn’t do it,” Ertz said. “It was better for the team, if I wasn’t able to go, to let ’em know early so they could get someone else up.”
“He was trying to test it out and he just couldn’t get it going,” Celek said of Ertz. “I felt bad for him.”
The bye week ought to help Ertz be ready for Dallas on Nov.19, but obviously that isn’t certain.
“I hope so,” said Ertz, who said he’d canceled a trip to watch his wife, Julie, play soccer this week. “I’ll be getting treatment all week, I’m not going to leave.”
Putting up 51 on the Broncos without Wentz’s go-to receiver is just the latest example of what might be the most remarkable thing about the 8-1 Eagles: their ability to overcome potentially crippling injuries.
“I think it’s big,” Celek said. “When you lose guys – with [Darren] Sproles, [Jason] Peters … everyone around’s just gotta step up and play that much better … missing those guys is missing a lot.”
Get insights on the Eagles delivered straight to your inbox with Early Birds, beat writer Zach Berman’s newsletter for Eagles fans. Click here to sign up.