ZACH ERTZ wouldn't take reporters through what he was thinking and seeing on the play that led to media and fans questioning his effort in Sunday's debacle at Cincinnati. Rodney McLeod would.
Both players stood up for their intensity and focus during the latest setback in an Eagles season that has turned ugly. Neither Ertz nor McLeod seemed surprised or angered, really; this is the kind of thing that happens when you lose seven of nine games after a 3-0 start, including three in a row, each by a bigger margin than the previous loss.
Several players, including Ertz and McLeod, said they understood where Eagles coach Doug Pederson was coming from, when he said Monday that "not everyone" gave great effort in the 32-14 loss, in which the Eagles trailed, 29-0, in the third quarter.
But safety Malcolm Jenkins said Pederson's comment "puts us in a little bit of a tough position as players, because now everybody wants to know, 'Who are you talking about?' "
Jenkins went on to say: "That's not something that we're worried about; I think everyone in (the locker room) understands - that'll be the last thing to go. We know that in ourselves we're not quitters, we trust that the guys next to us aren't quitting either."
And linebacker Nigel Bradham told Phillymag.com that Pederson's assertion was "shocking to me . . . I felt like everybody was (giving effort)."
Less shocked was Ertz, who has been the (burnt) toast of talk radio, the internet and newsprint since video surfaced of his avoidance of Cincinnati linebacker Vontaze Burfict, chasing Eagles quarterback Carson Wentz on a run, with Wentz almost out of bounds, safely beyond Burfict's grasp.
"I understand all the criticism and stuff. I'm not going to get into the details of each and every thought that I had during that play. I'm focused on giving this city everything I have, each and every play. Going forward, I will do that. I think I have done that in the past," said Ertz, 26, a fourth-year player from Stanford. "I understand how it looks on the film, but I'm not going to get into the minute details of what I saw on the play and what I didn't see on the play . . . I'm focused on getting better.
"I'm far from a finished product as a tight end . . . I think I could've maybe got in his way, impeded his progress a little more, to ensure that he didn't get near Carson, by any means, but, like I said, there was a thousand things going through my mind on that play, and there's a million reasons why I do stuff on each and every play."
Ertz and Wentz have discussed the play, they said.
"It was a very short conversation, and what needed to be said was said," Ertz said, declining to provide details.
"I think it was kind of a nonfactor in the play. I think I was already just about out of bounds," Wentz said. "We definitely talked about it, and it kind of just is what it is."
This wasn't exactly a hearty endorsement. So Wentz was asked whether he would have preferred that Ertz take out the linebacker, rather than avoid him.
"I was already past him. It was irrelevant. I don't think it would have made a difference at all, so I don't want to speculate too much on that," Wentz said.
"If you look at that game, I did give my all," Ertz said. "That one play has come under a lot of scrutiny, obviously, but if you watched that game for all four quarters, I'm cramping up during that game and I'm still going out and battling each and every play. All I care about is what my teammates and my coaches think about me. That's all I'm focused on."
McLeod, also 26, in his first year with the Eagles after signing as a free agent from the Rams, has built a career on hustle, after going undrafted out of Virginia. But video of the Bengals' first touchdown Sunday seemed damning; running back Jeremy Hill came right at McLeod, scoring from the 2 without the safety taking a step toward him, from where McLeod stood in the end zone.
McLeod reiterated what defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz told reporters Tuesday, that McLeod's responsibility on the play was outside and he was caught flatfooted when the run went up the middle. Schwartz said he would "put my name on" McLeod any day. McLeod is the Eagles' leading tackler this season, with 89.
"It definitely hurts. I know what type of player I am. I'm going to take pride in that. I feel like effort, hard work and all the things that got me where I am today, that's what my game is kind of built on," McLeod said. "When somebody questions or has doubt in that, it does hurt. But nothing I can do. Just continue to put good stuff on tape, which I feel like I have done and continue to ride for my teammates and my brothers."
Asked what he could have done differently, McLeod said he "probably could have pressed the line of scrimmage a little more . . . but it could bounce (outside), it could do anything."
McLeod said that on film, the Bengals usually ran that play to the left.
"It came out the back door and I was kind of just a little late," he said.
Pederson said Wednesday that player response to what he said has "been great."
"They're players and they understand" Pederson's perspective as a 14-year NFL quarterback, he said.
On Ertz, Pederson agreed that the block wouldn't have been a factor in Wentz's run.
"Obviously, Zach has taken a lot of heat for it, but, at the same time, he understands that those plays will come up again, and he knows he needs to make one," Pederson said.
Ertz said that he didn't think the episode merited a sit-down with the coach, that they are in accord.
"I know that I've completely bought, 100 percent, into coach Pederson," Ertz said. "I know that whatever he says, I'm going to do without question, because I respect the type of coach and person he is, and I know I love playing for him. I know a lot of guys love playing for coach Pederson. We know he has our back in each and every situation."
When a coach says something like that, Ertz said, "You look in the mirror . . . Evaluate yourself in those situations, see if you're giving that effort each and every play, each and every game . . . I think guys are going to respond really well to it."
Schwartz, a more veteran coach and a more polished public speaker than Pederson, drew a distinction between effort and energy, when Schwartz spoke Tuesday. McLeod seemed to take that interpretation of Pederson.
"He explained himself, what he meant, in regards to effort, doing those extra things needed to get us to that next step," McLeod said. "We're just searching for anything right now to give us a spark and an edge, to get out of this slump. I don't think he was questioning anybody's effort, or that guys aren't giving it their all each and every play, just that there are little things we can do a little better to help us win."