OAKLAND -- He wanted it more than anything. He had friends and family in the crowd. He had played college ball nearby. He had grown up in the same state. He even had the Raiders playing the right kind of defense.
If ever a time and place for Zach Ertz’s first touchdown catch in the NFL, Sunday’s game was the time and O.co Coliseum was the place.
“I was hoping,” Ertz said afterward. “I put so much work in -- both on and off the field -- this week and in the past. I knew it was coming. It was just a matter of time.”
Ertz, a rookie from Stanford, had his hopes realized in the second quarter when he caught a five-yard touchdown pass from Nick Foles, one of seven touchdown passes hung by the Eagles' quarterback on Oakland’s defense in a 49-20 demolition.
Not only did Ertz catch his first touchdown, he was part of a major historical accomplishment, as Foles became just the seventh quarterback in NFL history to toss seven touchdowns in one game and just the third to do it without throwing an interception (see story).
All in Ertz’s home away from home.
“Oh, yeah, the Bay Area,” Ertz said. “It was an unbelievable feeling. I have a lot of friends and family here, so I’m going to see them now. It was unbelievable.”
Ertz finished with five catches, a season high, and 42 yards, his second most. He was targeted six times, tied with Riley Cooper and DeSean Jackson for the most.
His touchdown came in the second quarter, but Ertz almost scored on the opening drive, catching a 10-yard pass at the Raiders’ 2-yard line, setting up Celek’s touchdown catch. Ertz had thought about fighting harder to get into the end zone, but took the safer route.
“Coach [Chip] Kelly preaches don’t reach for the goal line, so I didn’t want to reach and [have] something bad happen and then not play again,” he said, “so I kind of just tucked it in there, and I wanted to get Brent a touchdown anyway.”
Ertz routinely reeled in touchdowns in Palo Alto, where the campus of Stanford sits, a short drive away from Oakland’s home stadium. He caught 15 touchdowns in 38 career games for the Cardinal, then got taken by the Eagles with the 35th overall pick in April’s draft, the first draft under Kelly.
Ertz became the team’s highest-drafted tight end since the Eagles used a first-round pick (13th overall) on Keith Jackson in 1988.
The Eagles spent good money in the preseason on multipurpose H-back/tight end James Casey to help Kelly build his offense on versatile pass catchers, but Ertz beat out Casey for the No. 2 tight end job in the summer and his role in the offense keeps increasing by the week.
He played 35 snaps against Oakland, his second-most of the season, as the Eagles played more two-tight end formations than usual to counteract Oakland’s strategy of putting more defensive backs on the field.
"It’s a matchup thing,” Kelly said. “They got a really interesting dime package where they bring people from all over the place and I think sometimes that settles them down a little bit. We really felt this week it would be a big thing for us.”
For the season, Ertz has 19 receptions for 231 yards. Only two rookie tight ends, Tyler Eifert of the Bengals and Washington’s Jordan Reed, have more receptions and yards. But he leads all Eagles tight ends, with two more receptions and yards than Celek.
Ertz hadn’t been back to the Bay Area since he left at the end of July for Eagles training camp and was hoping to give a showcase in his homecoming and score his first professional touchdown.
“Every game I kind of hope,” he said, “but scoring here was really special.”