The pass was right in Zach Ertz’s hands. He had come off the line, done a nice job of widening out safety Eric Rowe, then cut inside and was wide open at the Miami seven-yard line on the second-and-seven play.
Carson Wentz delivered a chin-high throw that the veteran tight end has been catching with ease since high school.
But he dropped this one, just his third drop of the season, and the Eagles came away empty-handed on a critical drive that could’ve, should’ve, given them a 15-, or at the very least 11-, point lead in a game they ended up blowing, 37-31.
Later, with 2 ½ minutes left in the game and the Eagles down by nine, Wentz lobbed a pass over Rowe in the end zone that Ertz got both hands on, but was unable to secure as he brought it down. It wasn’t exactly a drop, but it was a pass Ertz knows he should’ve caught.
It was an all-around rotten day for Ertz. Playing with a balky hamstring, he was targeted six times and had just three catches for 24 yards as the Eagles lost their third straight game. The three catches were his third fewest of the season. The 24 receiving yards were his second fewest.
“I obviously didn’t put a lot of stuff on film that I was proud of,’’ Ertz said this week. “But I’m not going to lose confidence in myself. I know the coaches aren’t going to lose confidence in me. I’ve got to be the player this team needs me to be these next four games.’’
Ertz played just 75 percent of the Eagles’ offensive snaps against the Dolphins, which was his lowest percentage of the season.
His hamstring, which he initially tweaked in pre-game warmups the week before against Seattle, was the main reason the Eagles only used 12-personnel on 22 of 67 plays (32.8 percent) against the Dolphins. That was the lowest percentage they’ve used 12-personnel since their 27-24 Week 3 loss to the Lions (21.7 percent).
“I was pretty hot for 24 hours (after the Dolphins loss),’’ said Ertz, whose 70 receptions are the most in the league by a tight end. “Just really disappointed in myself and how I played.
“Obviously, priority No. 1 (this week) was trying to get my body feeling better than it was during the game. On Monday, I trained hard and busted my butt in the weight room and tried to get everything out of me. Tried to take out all of the anger and frustration in me in the weight room.
“On Tuesday, I got in a bunch of catches and then just kind of moved on. I’ve played in over a hundred games in this league now. I’ve had a lot of success. I can’t let one game define me.’’
Ertz needs to be a lot bigger part of the Eagles’ offense in these remaining four games than he was last Sunday in South Florida. If he isn’t, well, December 30 will be clean-out-your-locker day at the NovaCare Complex, not the beginning of preparations for a wild-card game.
He’s on pace for 93 catches, which would be the second most of his career, behind only last season’s 116, which were the most ever by an NFL tight end.
But he needs to become a bigger factor on third down. He had a team-high 23 third-down catches last year. Through 12 games this year, he’s got just 13.
He hasn’t caught any third-down passes from Wentz in the last three games, and has been shut out on third down in five of the last seven games.
Opposing defenses clearly are making a concerted effort to take him away from Wentz on third down. In the Eagles’ first five games, Ertz had eight third-down receptions and the Eagles converted 52.8 percent of their third-down opportunities.
In the last seven games, he has just five third-down receptions — all of them in their back-to-back wins over Buffalo and Chicago — and their third-down success rate has been 39.8.
“It’s different every week,’’ Ertz said when asked what defenses are doing coverage-wise against him on third down that has been so effective. “It’s one of those things where you don’t know exactly what they’re going to do until you get out there. You can game plan, you can think they’re going to do one thing and then they end up doing something completely different.
“When we played the Patriots, they put (cornerback Stephon) Gilmore on me on third down. And if it wasn’t him, they kind of chipped me at the line of scrimmage.
“The Seahawks didn’t do too much because they got a lead early, and they’re kind of a zone team. The Bears didn’t do too much either.’’
The 2-10 Giants are 28th in opponent passer rating (101.7) and dead last in yards allowed per attempt (8.5). They’ve got pretty good numbers against opposing tight ends, but that’s mostly because teams have attacked them down the field — they’ve given up 20 pass plays of 30 yards or more, the seventh most in the league. They also haven’t really faced many of the league’s better pass-catching tight ends.
“They kind of throw everything at you,’’ Ertz said. “A lot of moving parts. A lot of different personnel groupings. So we just have to be able to handle that, especially early on.’’
Ertz said he and the rest of the team’s leaders need to pick up their play, beginning Monday night.
“I took (the Dolphins loss) very personally,’’ he said. “A lot of the leaders took it very personally.
“The leaders of the team have to step up right now. We need our best players to be playing their best football right now. We feel that if we do that, everyone else will follow.’’