REDEMPTION seldom arrives so quickly.
Zach Ertz spent last week serving as the prime example of an Eagles team that played a heartless game in Cincinnati; a game after which coach Doug Pederson said "Not everybody" played hard.
Ertz, a tight end, entered that game with a reputation for softness. During the game, he refused to make a block. He exited the game a bona fide punk.
All week he was humiliated by his play. All week he was castigated by everyone who saw it. All week he waited to be redeemed.
Ertz played like a man possessed Sunday against Washington.
"I don't know if my teammates felt like I let them down," Ertz said "I wanted to prove to them I wasn't going to let them down ever again."
He caught 10 passes for 112 yards. He gained at least 44 yards after the catch, which probably matched his season total. He blocked on run plays like an offensive tackle: He took out linebacker Preston Smith on Ryan Mathews' 18-yard run in the third quarter and sealed Trent Murphy on Mathews' 21-yarder a little later.
"He really stepped up," Pederson said. "I'm sure it affected him personally. He wanted to be redeemed and get back out on the field and do what he can do."
Ertz did more than he'd ever done, really. He channeled Gronk. He recalled Ditka. It was as if Deion Sanders turned into Night Train Lane.
And it was contagious. Everybody played hard.
"Max effort. Max effort," Pederson said. "This team responded. I'm honored to be leading these guys."
"A lot of people said we'd quit on the season. I think that was a bunch of BS," Ertz said. "Guys played hard to the end, like always. We've just got to learn, as a team, to finish football games. We've got to learn that killer instinct that great football teams have."
No one will mistake this group for a great football team. The Eagles lost, 27-22, after they gave up a fourth-quarter lead and turned the ball over on their last possession. Their receivers and cornerbacks are subpar and their offensive line, already decimated by injury and suspension, used a fourth-string right tackle for much of the game and two long snappers got hurt, but they tried.
Ertz, of all people, led them.
By design, the first play of the game went to Ertz, a 13-yard gain on which he gained 9 yards after first contact. It took five Washington players to drag him down.
"I wanted to show my teammates I've got their back," Ertz said. "I was focused on being physical. Being physical after the catch. Being physical in the run game . . . I was focused on being the best tight end I could be today, and being the best teammate I could be."
Which, of course, indicates that Ertz was not focused on being the best tight end or teammate in other games; or, at least, not on every play.
A week before Ertz had refused to block Bengals beast-man Vontaze Burfict in the open field as quarterback Carson Wentz scrambled past. It was a blatant matador move; Ertz actually moved aside to let Burfict past. Pederson, and Ertz himself, admitted that Ertz's olé was unacceptable.
Neither considered it out of character.
Ertz is in his fourth season. He missed 1 1/2 games last season with a concussion and missed 2 1/2 games this season with a displaced rib. Those are painful, scary injuries. They're exactly the kind of injuries that happen when you try to block a 6-3, 245-pound linebacker like Burfict, who was coming at Ertz at full speed.
It is no small coincidence that Ertz signed a 5-year, $42 million contract extension in January.
For who, for what, indeed.
Make no mistake: Ertz heard every joke about his manhood. He heard every accusation of greed. He doesn't want to be the new Ricky Watters.
"Obviously, there was a lot of hoopla surrounding that one play last week," he said. "Obviously there was a lot of outside noise."
It sounds like there was a lot of inside noise, too. Ertz repeatedly mentioned concern over his teammates' feelings toward him, and echoed what he said earlier in the week:
"I'm not going to let one play define my career."
That's really not his choice.
Sunday did, however, help make that one play much less definitive.