Rich Hofmann: Celek shows hops, heart

Posted: September 18, 2012

BRENT CELEK is a runaway truck of a tight end. He is more physical than sleek, more rambunctious than anything. His most memorable plays are not when he runs away from defenders after catching a pass but when he drags them places against their will.

This time, though, in the third quarter of the Eagles' latest festival of excruciation, Celek chose a different route. He played Edwin Moses and Ravens all-everything safety Ed Reed played the hurdle.

"I'm not the most athletic tight end, to say the least," Celek was saying. "But when I see somebody kind of going at my knees, you know, hey, every once in a while you have to give them a hurdle to keep 'em honest."

It looks cool - and it wasn't the first time Celek did something to ignite the crowd Sunday at Lincoln Financial Field. But it is dangerous.

"It can be, if you don't get over him all the way," Celek said, laughing. "But I was lucky enough to get over him."

It was just one of Celek's eight catches for 157 yards in the Eagles' 24-23 win over the Ravens. He was targeted 11 times, more than anyone on his team. And the 157 yards were the most receiving yards in a game by an Eagles tight end since Pete Retzlaff had 204 yards in a game in 1965.

Celek gave them big chunk after big chunk, as he repeatedly found the soft spot beneath the Ravens' coverage umbrella and then kept on running. On the Eagles' final drive of the fourth quarter, when they scored the come-from-behind touchdown that won it, quarterback Michael Vick found Celek for a 24-yarder and then, a couple of plays later, for a 13-yarder that converted a third-and-2 situation.

He did have one pass deflect off of his hands and get intercepted, but Celek is a reliable force for this offense. He blossomed in the second half of last season, and he has picked up right from there. He was a really under-discussed reason why the Eagles played as well as they did in December of 2011.

As long as teams continue to show the Eagles a lot of two-deep safeties, in order to discourage the over-the-top home run to DeSean Jackson, Celek is a vital link to their offensive success. Vick has learned to find him, and to trust him, and Celek has delivered, often turning routine plays into rollicking excursions over the landscape. He plays bumper cars with opposing safeties, seeming to relish the contact.

Late in the first quarter, on a pass over the middle, Celek got clobbered by Ravens safety Bernard Pollard. It was a 21-yard catch, and it was one of those borderline defenseless-receiver situations, and Pollard got him good.

You wondered, for a quick second, if Celek was hurt - but then he leaped to his feet and theatrically gestured for a first down. The crowd at the Linc, which seems to enjoy watching Celek fight for extra yards almost as much as Celek enjoys the fighting, erupted.

"It was a very physical game," Celek said. "You know that anytime you play the Ravens, it's going to be a physical game. We wanted to come out and be physical, too. Yeah, I took a shot on that one. I didn't want to let him know that he hit me pretty hard, so I had to get up . . . "

And the extra emphasis? To fire up himself? His teammates? The crowd? Or to make a statement to the Ravens?

"Everything," Celek said. "Everything. Get the crowd going. Get my team going. And not let them know. Hey, you don't want the defense to know they hit you good."

Pollard knew - but it didn't matter. Through two games this season, that is the key phrase for the Eagles: But it didn't matter. Nine turnovers, two fourth-quarter deficits, so what?

"It feels amazing," Celek said. "These were the games we were losing last year. To have a come-from-behind victory like that, it's not exactly what you want, but we'll take it. It just shows the heart of our team, the never-lose attitude."

He also said, "I think we can be real good. We've just got to eliminate those [mistakes]. I know we had a few interceptions, a few fumbles, but they're everybody's fault. One was my fault - I take responsibility for that. I can't do that. I can't drop a ball like that and put our team in that position. But it takes all of us. We've got to be more disciplined. That's just what it comes down to."

Last year, Celek said, "Things would go wrong, and it would go sour fast."

And this year?

"New year," he said.

Same Celek, though.


Contact Rich Hofmann at hofmanr@phillynews.com. Follow him on Twitter @theidlerich. Read his blog at philly.com/TheIdleRich, or for recent columns go to philly.com/RichHofmann.

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