Recalling Eagles' Fourth and 26

Freddie Mitchell catches the fourth-and-26 pass from Donovan McNabb that propelled the Eagles past Green Bay in overtime in a 2004 playoff game.
Freddie Mitchell catches the fourth-and-26 pass from Donovan McNabb that propelled the Eagles past Green Bay in overtime in a 2004 playoff game.
Posted: January 07, 2011

Now that Eagles fans have witnessed DeSean Jackson's exclamation point at the end of Miracle at the Meadowlands II, Fourth and 26 - much like the two players who engineered it - has lost a little luster here.

But Sunday, when the Eagles and Green Bay Packers meet in an NFL playoff game for the first time since that maddeningly memorable afternoon seven years ago, it will be difficult to overlook the improbable salvation wrought by 74 Double Go.

"I just remember being on the sidelines," said safety Quintin Mikell, a rookie that day, Jan. 11, 2004. "I was like, 'What the hell just happened?' "

In case you've forgotten, the play that will forever be known by the improbable down and distance that confronted the desperate Eagles came with just over a minute to play in their NFC divisional playoff matchup with Brett Favre's Packers.

The Eagles, NFC East champions after a second straight 12-4 regular season, were the NFC's No. 1 seed and coming off a bye. Green Bay, meanwhile, the fourth seed, had edged Seattle in overtime at home in their wild-card playoff game.

Two early Packers TDs and Philadelphia's largely ineffective offense had given Green Bay a 14-0 lead and dispirited 67,706 fans, who were trying to convince themselves this was the year the favored Eagles finally would get back to a Super Bowl.

Philadelphia fought back to tie the score but, with 10 minutes, 22 seconds left in the fourth quarter, a Ryan Longwell field goal gave the Packers a 17-14 edge.

As boos rolled around Lincoln Financial Field in the new stadium's postseason debut, the Eagles had the ball on their own 47 when the two-minute warning was issued.

A Donovan McNabb incompletion, followed by a 16-yard loss on the fourth sack in the Eagles' last seven pass plays, and another incompletion, set up the seemingly impossible fourth and 26 at the Eagles' 26.

In the huddle, McNabb called 74 Double Go and told Freddie Mitchell, who hadn't caught a ball all day, to get ready.

Mitchell, the No. 1 pick who would be a colossal flop, couldn't be reached for this article, but he told the website PhillySportsDaily that he'd been frustrated all that afternoon.

"That was the first time they threw to me all afternoon," he said. "I was blocking my ass off doing everything it took, doing the stuff that society doesn't recognize. . . . Donovan looked at me in the huddle and said, 'Ready?' And I said, 'Dude, I've been ready the whole game.' "

The Packers lined up in a Cover-2 defense. As McNabb retreated and Mitchell sprinted toward his cut just past the first-down marker, cornerback Darren Sharper inexplicably stayed a few yards deeper.

Wideouts James Thrash and Todd Pinkston ran go patterns, but the play called for Mitchell to curl under, just beyond the marker.

When McNabb fired the pass toward his open receiver, neither Sharper nor safety Bhawoh Jue, who'd been guarding against a sideline route, could get there in time.

In the stands, McNabb's mother, who had superstitiously abandoned her luxury-box seat, put her hands over her eyes.

"I can't look," she said.

Though the pass was slightly behind him, Mitchell made the catch and, as the stunned crowd caught its breath, tumbled for a first down at Green Bay's 46.

By the time the self-promoting wideout, who fancied himself "The People's Champ," arose and made a gesture that indicated he was donning a world championship belt, the stadium and the Eagles' sideline were rumbling in ecstasy.

"It was just nuts after that," Mikell recalled.

Reborn, the Eagles' offense pushed the ball close enough in the final minute to allow David Akers to kick a game-tying, 37-yard field goal.

Then, after Philadelphia went three and out to start overtime, Favre threw one of those ill-advised, off-the-back-foot passes that were the most obvious flaws in a Hall of Fame career.

Brian Dawkins intercepted the punt-like toss and returned it 35 yards. Soon afterward, Akers kicked another field goal, this one from 31 yards, and the Eagles were back in the NFC title game.

Favre, who had lost his father earlier that season, and the Packers, whom most had assumed were a team of destiny because of that, were devastated.

"They cleaned out the defensive coaching staff after that," Green Bay's Cullen Jenkins recalled this week.

The next week, enmeshed in another big-game offensive malaise, there would be no Fourth and 26 salvation for the Eagles. Underdog Carolina upset them.

"I love being a part of that play," Mitchell told the website. "A lot of great receivers came through this league, but I'd rather have one memorable catch than go to the Pro Bowl. There are Pro Bowl and Hall of Fame players that have caught 20 times as many passes as me but aren't remembered. So I'm cool with it."


Contact staff writer Frank Fitzpatrick at 215-854-5068 or at ffitzpatrick@phillynews.com.

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