It’s been a strange year for the Eagles and more specifically their receivers. Having started the year without Alshon Jeffery and then losing Mike Wallace, the unit spent the first half of the year light on depth and production followed suit. But a few weeks, the return of Jordan Matthews and a gamble-like trade later, things started to pick up.
Trading a third round pick for the services of Golden Tate forced many to sit on their hands in anticipation and nervousness. On one hand, Howie Roseman showed the aggressiveness at the deadline that fans had been pining for. On the other, how would a third ‘slot’ receiver fit into this offense?
That was the question that perplexed makes during the first few weeks following Tate’s arrival. Offensive coordinator Mike Groh made a comment referring to how ‘challenging’ it is to implement a player of his skillet which was then taken drastically out of context. The Eagles were slipping and sliding out of control and fans were almost clinging to the idea of Tate saving the day as there final lifeline. It’s easy to see why.
One of the most dominant receivers after the catch since he entered the league, Tate boasted credentials that would make even the sternest coach purr. His ability to stretch the field and turn on the afterburners with the ball in hands is a unique one and when you partner that with his efficiency on third down, on paper, it felt like a match made in heaven.
But, it was never going to be that simple. Tate worked tirelessly to get acclimated with Pederson’s offense and adjust to a different quarterback, learning terminologies and subtle differences to what he was previously used to. But the sense of urgency surrounding the ‘word’ production somewhat pressured that process.
After 2 receptions for 19 yards against the Cowboys, the veteran was targeted 8 times in back to back weeks and 7 in what was his most productive game as an Eagle so far, which then drew criticisms of force-feeding. The hard truth is, you can’t have it all.
But then, things began to settle down. Although the Eagles started running 12-personnel far more frequently (which meant one receiver was unfortunately going to take a backseat every time two tight ends took the field), Tate’s production didn’t seem to be hindered by this. If anything, it opened up. Catching all 5 passes thrown his way against the Rams, Tate showed a glimpse of what was to come, as he mirrored similar levels of consistency in the two closing games of the season, making big-time plays when called upon. His numbers weren’t dazzling by any means…but the Eagles don’t need them to be.
The Golden Tate trade wasn’t a gamble that would be judged on receiving yards or touchdowns. But instead, it would be judged on the fact that if the Eagles somehow made the postseason, having a weapon like the former Lions wideout could be the difference when it matters most. If they failed to make the playoffs, trade would have been a swing and a miss. But here we are with bases loaded and Tate staring down a trembling pitcher.
His 46-yard game against Chicago doesn’t sound stunning on the surface, but hauling in a key grab over the middle in which he absorbed two thunderous hits that sought to drive the ball loose not only helped the Eagles move the chains, but fired up the offense.
“He’s tough. Again, that’s just who he is.” Doug Pederson said on Monday. “That’s the type of player he is. He has that running-back mentality. Again, strong at the ball. Strong at the point. And quite frankly, the first guy normally doesn’t bring him down, and that was a sweet catch. Obviously, a big play in the game, as of course, the last one. But that’s who he is, and that’s what we expected out of him and we have to do more of that.”
When asked to reflect on the trade so far, the Head Coach who is now 4-0 in the playoffs was openly honest.
“Well, he’s exactly the person we knew we were getting, and this guy obviously was a starter and then kind of came in, became a role player.
So kind of a little bit took a seat a little bit, a step back. And had to kind of get comfortable with the offense and then as [Eagles offensive coordinator] Mike [Groh] and myself and the staff, we put game plans together, we think of our playmakers in mind and have certain plays for guys and each week, he just shows that he can handle more and more and more, and obviously we get, in practice, we get more plays repped in practice than we do get called necessarily sometimes in a game. So you see more in practice from him, but he just keeps getting better, and he’s really good at the types of catches that he made last night, and especially the fourth down to win the game or at least to go ahead.
Those are the things he can do. He’s very strong at the ball. We know he’s strong after the catch. He’s strong breaking tackles and played well.”
Tate would later make the biggest play of the game. With time ticking down, the Eagles drove down to the Bears goal-line and forced the home team to burn timeouts. On 4th and goal, Nick Foles sprinted out and found Tate on the edge of the end zone to push the Eagles into a late lead which they would cling onto in miraculous fashion.
If Golden Tate can continue to come up with plays like the pair of game-changers he did on Sunday, in the heart of the postseason, then regardless of what happens after the rollercoaster ride ends, it’s safe to say that the Eagles found true value in risking it all for a taste of Gold.
Mandatory Credit: Brad Mills-USA TODAY Sports