It would be an oversimplification to say that as tight end Brent Celek goes, so go the Eagles. But consider that during this 2011 season, Celek is averaging 67.3 yards receiving in the team's six wins - double the 33.6 yards he's averaged in the team's eight losses on the year.
On Sunday afternoon, Celek led the team's offensive charge with a sparkling effort during which he caught five passes for a career-high 156 yards, the second highest total for an Eagles tight end in franchise history behind Pete Retzlaff's 204 yards in 1965. Celek started the scoring for the Eagles offense late in the first quarter when he ran across the middle of the field, reached one-handed for a Michael Vick pass and tipped the ball to himself before running in for a 26-yard touchdown that gave the Eagles a 14-0 lead (the Eagles' first touchdown came courtesy of the defense on a Juqua Parker fumble return).
On a team that features feared pass catchers like DeSean Jackson and Jeremy Maclin, Celek leads the team with 54 receptions on the year. He began the season with only nine catches through the first five games, but has come on strong and hauled in 41 catches over the team's last eight games. Following the game, Celek said that his re-emergence in the offense has been a product of both his relationship with Michael Vick and the defensive schemes.
"The more we play together, the more we understand what we're doing," Celek said. "Everybody runs routes differently, it doesn't matter if you're running the exact same route as somebody else, you're going to run it a little bit differently than them. Just doing it time after time, Michael gets to know how you run it. I think we're developing a rapport that's pretty good."
"There were many (plays) early in the year that were designed for (Celek) and the ball went elsewhere because of coverage typically," said offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg. "And so this game, yeah there were a couple more and we got the right coverage and (Vick) was able to get the football to (Celek)."
And no play-call wedded more perfectly with the defense's coverage than the third play of the Eagles' first drive in the second half. On a first-and-10 from their own 26-yard-line, Vick threw the ball over the middle to Celek, who caught the ball at the 42-yard-line. But with no defender near him, Celek continued sprinting for 57 yards before he was brought down on the 1-yard-line.
"I thought I was running pretty fast," Celek joked after the game. "It felt like I had water in my lungs, but it was a great throw by Mike. The perfect coverage, I mean it was man-to-man underneath, they had a single safety deep and it was a play that was set up earlier in the game, Marty (Mornhinweg) called a bunch of sticks and then we did stick-nod and we gassed them. It was a great call."
It wasn't the first time this season that Celek has fired up the fans and his teammates with a big play. But usually, those plays come when Celek exhibits his trademark toughness when bowling over defenders.
"He's been playing excellent," said running back LeSean MCCoy of Celek. "His yards after the catch, after the contact, is unbelievable. Just the way he's been playing lately, coach Reid always tells me that when we get myself going and when we get Brent Celek going, we're hard to deal with because there are so many guys you have to deal with. It might be the running game or it might be the deep threat, or it might be Celek doing all the middle things, making things happen across the middle. I think it's energy, the way he plays with energy, breaking tackles, the extra effort, it kind of gets everybody going."
Celek, meanwhile, attributes part of the reason for his superlative effort to a childhood idol.
"I grew up and I watched Jerome Bettis play and I tried to emulate the things that he did and he never let one guy tackle him and I just tried to put that in my game," said Celek. "I think it fires guys up. When you're getting those extra yards, fighting for it, not letting one guy bring you down, it gets this team going, it gets the crowd going. That's what I want to do, get 'em going."
For Celek and the Eagles, Sunday's demonstrative victory was a feel-good one, but there's plenty of work left to be done as the team hopes to sneak into the playoffs as an 8-8 division champion. But in a season in which so many unexpected things have happened to the Eagles, perhaps the most reliable aspect of the team is the effort that Celek will put forth when he hits the field on game day.
"I'll tell you this, I give it my all every single game when I go out there," he said, "so the individual stats, they don't mean anything. It's fun to talk about when you're done, but all that matters is winning."
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