Wizardry Of OZ
Unheralded WR's 4Q Touchdown Grab Played Major Role In Birds Rally
PHILADELPHIA – Down 24-21 in the game’s final frame, and facing what felt like a must-have 3rd-and-15 from inside the Buffalo Bills 30-yard-line, only one idea crossed the mind of Eagles wide receiver Olamide Zaccheaus, who was tasked with tracking the descending pass from Jalen Hurts amid a torrential downpour.
“Catch that shit,” he said, before cleaning up the understandable profanity given the circumstance. “Excuse me – but just catch the ball.”
Adding to his sense of urgency was that, moments earlier, Eagles cornerback James Bradberry had collected an interception of Bills quarterback Josh Allen to return possession to the offense in prime field position.
Hurts, who had dotted a 15-yard touchdown to wideout DeVonta Smith five plays earlier, rolled to his left and pointed upfield.
But it was the unspoken eye directive – a symbiotic chemistry established only through practice repetition – that allowed Zaccheaus to find the open space in the back of the end zone.
“I see him throw it – we kind of lock eyes a little bit – and when I scrambled, I could kind of see him looking towards where I should be running,” Zaccheaus, a first-year Eagles receiver, explained. “I was like, ‘OK’ … and then I see everybody else was kind of closer to the ball.
“The open space was in the end zone, so I just had to scramble drill to the end zone. He threw it, he trusted me, and I made the play.”
The play unfolded in an eerily similar manner to Alabama’s go-ahead touchdown Saturday – which sealed the improbable Crimson Tide victory over the Auburn Tigers – when Tide quarterback Jalen Milroe lofted a pass in the back of the end zone for wideout Isaiah Bond.
This time, Hurts was drifting toward the left sideline, and launched a deep shot to Zaccheaus, who had retreated upfield and separated from safety Micah Hyde.
Zaccheaus tracked the spiral despite Hyde and fellow safety Jordan Poyer closing on him, plucking the ball out of the unrelenting rainstorm, securing the 29-yard touchdown and giving the Eagles their first lead since the second quarter – a pivotal change of momentum in a see-saw contest that the Eagles eventually won, 37-34, in overtime on a Hurts rushing touchdown.
“It’s huge,” Zaccheaus said. “I always say that the play doesn’t care who makes it. It was me, and I had to step up in that particular instance. It was a huge moment to take the lead.”
Zaccheaus, a free-agent signing from Philly who attended St. Joe’s Prep, had previously totaled precisely 10 targets and four receptions for 29 yards since his two-catch, 58-yard showing in Week 3.
The former Falcons receiver became the latest example of a role player tasked with exceeding expectations in a critical moment.
Despite being sparsely called upon, the 26-year-old delivered, as the Eagles continue to deploy an array of pass-catchers in the absence of tight end Dallas Goedert.
Whether it’s been Julio Jones snaring a go-ahead score Week 7 against Washington, rookies Eli Ricks and Sydney Brown undergoing a crash-course at nickel corner, or an instance like Sunday, in which reserve right tackle Jack Driscoll replaced Lane Johnson and tight end Jack Stoll lowered his shoulder to rumble 14 yards on a 3rd-and-2 in the red zone, the Eagles continue to benefit from significant contributions by understated role players.
Sunday was Zaccheaus’ turn, after several quiet weeks, to answer the bell.
“What an unbelievable throw and catch by OZ and Jalen on the touchdown on the scramble,” head coach Nick Sirianni said afterward. “I mean, my goodness, that was a good play.”
Combating inclement weather amid a neck-and-neck slugfest leaves little room for error, particularly for an Eagles offense that appeared stuck in neutral for the first 30-plus minutes.
But the fourth-quarter strike to Zaccheaus – a player adamant about impacting a game on limited opportunities – rejuvenated an impassioned Lincoln Financial Field crowd and helped realign an erratic offense.
Zaccheaus’ touchdown put the Eagles ahead in what could’ve been deemed a turning point had the Eagles not relinquished the lead before ultimately rallying again to win.
Still, it was the budding connection between Hurts and the seldom-utilized Zaccheaus that offered a potential glimpse of what the Eagles’ multifaceted aerial attack could resemble at full strength.
A pick-your-poison offense, if you will.
“It’s a week-to-week thing,” Zaccheaus said. “I’m a new guy here this year, but every week is just a constant trust-building thing, a chemistry thing.
“As we get more games under our belt, I understand the situation and role that I’m in. It’s just about capitalizing on those little opportunities we do get. It’s something we talk about, and that was a huge moment.”
– Andrew DiCecco (@AndrewDiCecco) is a Staff Reporter/Content Producer for InsideTheBirds.com.