FOURTH AND 26 FOREVER The Eagles will never forget Freddie Mitchell's catch. They just wish it led to something bigger.

Posted: December 02, 2004

Fourth and 26.

Just say those words and most of the population in Green Bay and Philadelphia knows exactly what you're talking about. Football fans all over the country will be talking about Fourth and 26 all week as the Packers and Eagles prepare for Sunday's game at Lincoln Financial Field.

It was the most memorable play of the Eagles' 2003 season and the most miserable play of the Green Bay Packers' season. Fifty years from now, they'll still be breaking out that roll of video from the NFL Films archives.

"It doesn't feel good when you hear those words," Packers free safety Darren Sharper said.

The Packers' negative reaction to that play is predictable.

Not so predictable were the events that followed for the Eagles and Freddie Mitchell, the receiver who pulled in the prayer from quarterback Donovan McNabb with a little more than a minute remaining in the fourth quarter of a division playoff game the Eagles eventually won in overtime.

Mitchell said the play changed his life. And, in some ways, it did.

Imagine his surprise this off-season when he was on vacation in Sweden and one of the natives recognized him as the "fourth-and-26 guy." (Had to be a Vikings fan who hates the Packers.)

In other ways, things have not changed at all for Mitchell or the Eagles.

The Eagles' "miraculous connection" was supposed to launch the team to its first Super Bowl since 1981. It was supposed to be a sign that things finally were going to fall into place for a team that had stumbled at the doorstep the previous two seasons.

Instead, the Eagles fell again and all those fourth-and-26 shirts sold outside Lincoln Financial Field before NFC Championship Loss III to the Carolina Panthers seemed like worthless collector's items.

"The whole season loses its luster after you fail to win a playoff game at home," Eagles tight end Chad Lewis said.

Even in defeat, however, it seemed as if a new day had dawned for Mitchell. As Todd Pinkston and James Thrash experienced the agony of playing horribly in defeat, Mitchell was the one Eagles wide receiver who didn't come up small against the Panthers.

He equaled a career high with four catches in the NFC championship game, and there was a strong feeling in the off-season that Mitchell was ready to replace Pinkston as the No. 2 receiver even after the Eagles brought in Terrell Owens.

"I would think it would have changed, but it really didn't," Mitchell said.

Actually, Mitchell's role has changed. It has diminished.

After 11 games last season, he had 24 catches for 300 yards and a touchdown. This season, after the same number of games, he has half as many catches for 59 fewer yards and no touchdowns. He's had one catch in five games and none in three others.

"It's hard," Mitchell said. "It's definitely hard. But nobody is going to feel sorry for me. You've got to move on."

No matter what happens Sunday in the Eagles-Packers rematch, the play will live on. As Mitchell pointed out, the Pittsburgh Steelers didn't win the Super Bowl after Franco Harris' "immaculate reception" in 1972, but that play still is recalled on a regular basis in Pittsburgh and Oakland.

"Sometimes you need a little bit of luck, and that's what gives you that little extra push you need," McNabb said. "At that particular time, it was what we needed."

Mitchell had not caught a pass at that point in the game and he said he was one of McNabb's last options on the play that was called in the huddle.

And yet . . .

"I knew Donovan was coming to me," Mitchell said. "No matter what, I knew he was going to come to me in that situation. It was the same thing against San Francisco. He came to me when it was fourth and 9."

Mitchell and McNabb connected for a first down on that play, too, but the Eagles lost in overtime to the 49ers, so it was quickly forgotten.

Fourth and 26 will never be forgotten. It will be replayed during the pregame shows leading into Sunday's rematch between teams many believe will meet in the playoffs again this season.

"Everything was on the line, and we got in the huddle and we talked about what we needed to do in order for us to continue to move the chains and possibly win the game," McNabb said. "Guys had full confidence that we could get it accomplished. It was an exciting time for Philadelphia history. It was an exciting time for people in the community. But at this point, it's nothing for us."

Had the Eagles won the Super Bowl, it could have been a play that meant so much more. Now, it's just a great play that is sure to be mentioned every time the Eagles play Green Bay.

Contact staff writer Bob Brookover at 215-854-2577 or bbrookover@phillynews.com.

Mitchell's Big Play: How It Unfolded

Forgotten how Eagles wide receiver Freddie Mitchell made the miraculous play on fourth and 26 last season to help the Eagles take a 20-17 overtime win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC playoffs? Here's a look back at the details.

The Eagles trailed, 17-14, with 1 minute, 12 seconds left in the fourth quarter. It was fourth and 26 on their own 26.

Mitchell lined up in the right slot across from nickel back Michael Hawthorne. Donovan McNabb took the snap from under center.

Green Bay rushed four down linemen, and the remaining seven defenders drifted back into coverage. Mitchell ran a post pattern down the middle of the field. Hawthorne bumped him but let him go.

McNabb took a five-step drop and threw.

Mitchell, alone, looked back at McNabb. He went up for the pass and altered his jump in midair to catch the spiral, thrown slightly behind him. Bhawoh Jue tried to deflect the pass, but it was too high.

Mitchell bobbled the ball slightly on his way down, landed at the Green Bay 47, and took hits from safeties Marques Anderson and Darren Sharper, which drove him back 2 yards.

The officials marked the ball on the Packers' 46, making the play a 28-yard gain for a first down. Mitchell got up, pumping his fist.

|
|
|
|
|