PHILADELPHIA (AP)—As the clock ticked down in regulation, Donovan McNabb saved Philadelphia’s season—and a city’s psyche.
And with one desperation heave, Brett Favre threw away Green Bay’s chance at another Super Bowl.
The pick was pivotal, but this was really about McNabb.
With the Eagles trailing 17-14 and 1:12 left in regulation, he breathed life into his team with a 28-yard completion to Freddie Mitchell on a fourth-and-26. That, in turn, led to a 37-yard field goal by Akers that sent the game into overtime.
“I just tried to get into a position where Freddie could compete for it,” McNabb said. Mitchell weaved his way through a zone defense and caught the ball with Bhawoh Jue and Darren Sharper on each side.
“It was just a great play by Freddie,” McNabb said.
Added Mitchell: “I just tried to beat my man and go deep. Donovan read the play perfectly.”
Despite being sacked eight times, McNabb set a playoff record for quarterbacks by rushing for 107 yards. He also threw for 248 yards and two touchdowns—355 total yards.
The win puts the Eagles in their third straight NFC title game next Sunday against the Carolina Panthers. Philadelphia lost the last two—at home to Tampa Bay and in St. Louis.
Nothing less than a Super Bowl trip will satisfy many of the region’s fans; a loss would have been devastating.
“There were plenty of chances to tank and these guys didn’t do it,” coach Andy Reid said. “Everybody gets a little credit today for that type of win.”
Duce Staley had two big runs—one for 22 yards on the Eagles’ first play of their final drive in regulation and another of 11 yards in overtime to help set up the tying field goal. Staley’s contribution was especially needed with the Eagles missing all-purpose running back Brian Westbrook, who scored 13 touchdowns in the regular season but is out with a torn triceps muscle.
“We’re not even worried about the Carolina Panthers right now. We’re excited about this win,” McNabb said. “Even though we were down we still prevailed and showed some heart.”
Favre, who was 15-of-28 for 180 yards, did not speak with reporters after the game. Neither did Ahman Green, who ran for 156 yards. The Packers (11-7) head back to Green Bay after winning seven of eight, including three straight since Favre’s father died just before Christmas.
But Dawkins said he was ready for Favre.
“They were telling me he was going to give me a chance to make a play,” Dawkins said. “When you look at the film, that’s what he does.
“We’ve come too far to let this thing slip away,” he said. “I was making sure everybody kept their head into the game regardless of the score.”
Green Bay coach Mike Sherman pointed no fingers of blame.
“I’m very disappointed for them rather than at them,” he said.
This was the Packers’ second straight playoff overtime game; last week they beat Seattle at home on Al Harris’ interception return.
Referring to the McNabb-Mitchell completion, Sherman said: “That was a pretty good situation to be in. You would think you would win a fourth-and-26. We didn’t get that done.”
The Packers led 14-7 at halftime, but the Eagles had the momentum after stopping Green on fourth down from the 1-yard line late in the second quarter. The Eagles’ Corey Simon was responsible for the stop, pushing guard Mike Whale into Green and slowing him down for Jerome McDougle and Mark Simoneau.
Green Bay scored twice in the first quarter on passes of 40 and 17 yards from Favre to Robert Ferguson, the first set up by McNabb’s fumble.
The Eagles countered midway through the second quarter on McNabb’s 7-yard TD pass to Staley. It came one play after a 45-yard completion from McNabb to Todd Pinkston.
Philadelphia tied it early in the fourth quarter when McNabb scrambled out of trouble and found Pinkston just inside the pylon from 12 yards out.
“We had a chance to win on offense, defense and special teams and we needed a play to go our way,” Longwell said. “We didn’t and now we’ll go home for the year.”
The Eagles looked at it from the other angle.
“Fourth-and-26 and Freddie comes up with a humongous play,” tight end ChadLewis said. “We’ve got a team full of warriors who just want to battle.”
The late Otto Graham held the old playoff rushing record for quarterbacks with 99 yards in 1950. … McNabb’s best rushing total is 125 yards against Washington in 2000. … Favre’s 180 yards passing moved him ahead of Dan Marino into second place on the career playoff list. Last week, Favrepassed Terry Bradshaw.