Brent Celek just hasn't looked like himself.
For most of this season, the Eagles tight end has not resembled the 2009 version, when he caught 76 passes for 971 yards. This season as his receiving numbers have dipped - he's on pace to finish with 40 catches for 456 yards - the question routinely has been, "What's wrong with Celek?"
It took a few months and a slight turnaround for Celek to acknowledge that something was wrong. He injured his hamstring in training camp, and that along with an assortment of occupational bumps and bruises carried over into the regular season.
"I'm starting to think that," Celek said Friday, a day after the Eagles defeated the Texans, 34-24. "I was getting beat up, and I think my body was just so worn down that I just needed a little bit of time off. . . . Maybe in the future when I have things like that, I have to be smarter about it."
It took until after the bye week in late October, Celek said, to feel healthy again. Still, that did not solve every problem. The 25-year-old tight end had just two catches for 8 yards in the next three games as the Eagles asked him to block more.
Then he finally showed glimpses of Celek, circa 2009, against the Bears and Texans. He caught a thread-through-the-needle touchdown pass from Michael Vick in Chicago and was breaking tackles and carrying defenders against Houston.
"Whatever I have to do to help this team win, I'm going to do it," Celek said after the game. "Because right now, the feeling we have after winning is ultimately the best."
The Eagles are 8-4 and tied atop the NFC East with the New York Giants. There's a chance that tie will be broken when the division leaders face off at the Meadowlands on Dec. 19. But first there is resurgent Dallas on Sunday. A revived Celek would go a long way toward helping the Eagles against a team they did not beat last season in three tries.
In those meetings, Celek caught 13 passes for 194 yards and a touchdown. He was the Eagles' most consistent pass catcher last season, finishing with less than three catches in a game only once. This season, that's already occurred five times.
During training camp, then preseason, and in the first few games - when a wrist sprain hampered the tight end - Celek was laboring.
"The first several games, he was beat up pretty good," Eagles offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg said. "He's a pro football player. He doesn't whine or cry or say, 'Why me?' He just goes about his business and tries to get better every day."
But there was more to Celek's plummeting numbers in the early going. Defenses were blitzing Vick, and Kevin Kolb and the Eagles' mediocre offensive line needed help with the extra pass rushers. So Celek, who had never thrived in the art of blocking, was told to stay in.
"It was a humbling kind of experience for me just because when you don't get the stats, people judge your play based on that," Celek said. "And I think I've had the best blocking season of my career."
He had several key blocks in the Eagles' victory over Houston. First, he sealed off a linebacker on Vick's first-quarter touchdown pass to LeSean McCoy, and later he held up Texans defensive end Mario Williams as McCoy ran for 12 yards.
"I want to be able to block and be able to catch passes because I just don't like that stigma of, 'Aw, Celek can only catch,' " he said. "I want them to say, 'He's a great all-around tight end.' "
There were points during the season when it seemed as if Celek couldn't catch. He dropped several passes and is still not as sure-handed as last season. He said he should have pulled in the second-quarter pass from Vick against Houston that would have been a touchdown.
But Celek has been more consistent, catching seven passes for 105 yards over the last two games. He credits wearing his contact lenses every day as opposed to only on game days for some of the improvement.
Eagles coaches know it has a lot more to do with the sort of will and determination he showed in the fourth quarter of the Texans game, when he dragged a tackler four yards as he lunged to convert a third-and-19 play on the way to a game-sealing touchdown.
"He's not a selfish guy, number one; he's all about the team," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "You always see him [at the NovaCare Complex]. He's always around the building."