With just more than 10 minutes left in the second quarter, rookie tight end Dallas Goedert ran a strong route to the goal line, eluded defenders, and found himself wide open for a 15-yard strike from scrambling quarterback Nate Sudfeld.
Within seconds, Goedert slapped the hand of running back Wendell Smallwood, chest-bumped Sudfeld, and became surrounded by the rest of the offense slapping his helmet and celebrating his first touchdown at the NFL level.
The touchdown, that led to the Eagles taking the lead in what turned out to be a 31-14 loss in the 2018 preseason opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night at Lincoln Financial Field, was just one highlight of an excellent professional debut by the Eagles’ 49th overall pick in the 2018 draft and one that he will not soon forget.
“It was really cool,” Goedert told reporters in the locker room after the game. “The whole team was there pretty quick. The guy tackled me in the end zone. And just celebrating with my teammates, Nate was pretty happy, and just celebrating with all the O-lineman, all the wide receivers, (Zach) Ertz and (Richard) Rodgers and other tight ends came in and supported me, so that was really cool.”
With Ertz not dressing for Thursday’s game, Goedert lined up as the primary tight end for the Eagles’ first-team offense. He finished as the team’s second-leading receiver with 66 yards on four catches and a touchdown in only one half on the field. Not a bad debut.
“I thought I did pretty well,” Goedert said. “There are obviously things I need to improve on. But that’s what you expect for your first game. ... It was kind of what I expected and what we’ve been practicing. Obviously, players are fast out there, hits are hard, but it was fun.”
“I wanted to feature him a little bit,” head coach Doug Pederson said after the game. “We were very vanilla, obviously, on offense. But at the same time, just wanted to get him into a little bit of a rhythm, he and Nate. He did some nice things for us. He's going to be a great addition to our offense and offensive package. Excited for his future and what he can provide offensively.”
Sudfeld’s first completion of the game was a 26-yard pass to Goedert on the Eagles’ second possession. Goedert said that catch helped him settle into his first game, despite having one drop on a short pass later in the drive.
“It was a pretty good play that we have,” Goedert said. “I was able to sell it and get open, and Nate saw me so credit to him and credit to the O-line for giving him the time to do that.”
Goedert had another big play, a 27-yard pass in the second quarter, that set up his eventual touchdown. In addition to his receiving, Goedert was also tasked with blocking on several plays, something he said he had not done much in college and learned in the spring and summer this year.
“I think I did pretty well in blocking,” Goedert said. “Like I said before, I need to improve on it, but that’s kind of with everything in the game. After the first game, I need to see things a little bit faster, but I feel like I did pretty well.”
Goedert made an especially important block when the Eagles were stuck at their 2-yard on the second possession in the first quarter. His block in the end zone on the left side of the line against Steelers cornerback Artie Burns opened a hole for running back Jay Ajayi, who ran 22 yards and got the offense away from the goal line.
“He's really done a nice job,” Pederson said. “He's a willing participant to block. You've just got to continue to trust his technique, trust the coaching, and the way Justin (Peelle, tight ends coach) is teaching. Continue to just get stronger. It's good to see him stick his face in there and be physical with defensive and outside linebackers. He'll continue to get better.”
While Goedert was a go-to target Thursday, he said the coaches have not told him how they plan to use him when Ertz returns to the field. On this night, Ertz played the role of a mentor on the sideline to Goedert.
“He just came up to me and said, ‘Do your thing, have fun out there, you’re not going to play a perfect game, no one ever does, but just play your heart out and have fun,’” Goedert said. “We got a great group of guys supporting me really well, a lot of players played well, so it was fun being out there with those guys.”
Goedert said there were certainly jitters before the game, but once he stepped on the field, it was all about playing football. Now, with an impressive debut under his belt, he expects the speed of the game to slow down and for his play to improve even more by the time the Eagles take on the New England Patriots next Thursday night.
"It was exciting,” Goedert said. “The NFL has a long offseason, so it was exciting getting back to playing a game. I’m really excited, looking forward to next week, getting better this week, and going to Foxborough."
Check out the best photos from Thursday's preseason opener against the Steelers at Lincoln Financial Field.