Winging it, McNabb lifts Eagles in OT

PHILADELPHIA — PHILADELPHIA - The Philadelphia Eagles careened from the impossible to the miraculous last night on Donovan McNabb's arm, David Akers' leg and Freddie Mitchell's hands.

Fourth-and-26? No problem for McNabb, who got 28 yards when he found Mitchell down the middle of the field for the play of the Eagles' season.


Tricky corner winds? Humbled once by the wind, Akers conquered it twice when it counted most for season-saving field goals.

Sudden death? The Eagles bounced the Green Bay Packers out of the playoffs with an improbable 20-17 overtime victory in an NFC semifinal before 67,707 at freezing Lincoln Financial Field.


Akers kicked a 37-yard field goal with five seconds left in regulation to forge a 17-17 tie, then hit a 31-yarder after a crucial Brett Favre interception set the Eagles' table in overtime.

Call it new life for Philadelphia, and keep the Eagles' reservation for the NFC championship game next week against the Carolina Panthers. They're going to the conference final for the third straight year, and this time they might not be denied.

"We don't need fate, we have [No.] 5," Mitchell said after the top-seeded Eagles (13-4) escaped deficits of 14-0 and 17-14. "Donovan's our leader. We've been through thick and thin with him."

In a game that held ample opportunity to second-guess Packers coach Mike Sherman's decisions, the Eagles showed why they never question the heart of McNabb.

After completing one of his first seven passes, McNabb had a game that may have defined his splendid NFL career. Despite the sluggish start, he completed 21 of 39 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

When given cavernous running lanes by the blitzing Packers defense, he took them - to the tune of 107 rushing yards. That broke the NFL record for rushing yards by a quarterback in a playoff game, set by the late Otto Graham in the 1950 championship game.

"He did a great job," Eagles coach Andy Reid said. "He kept firing and he did it with confidence and conviction and so on. I give him a lot of credit."

McNabb's first-quarter fumble and a missed 33-yard field-goal attempt by Akers helped Green Bay (11-7) to a 14-0 lead. Favre cashed in both miscues with touchdown passes.


McNabb got the Eagles back into the game with a shovel pass to Duce Staley that went for a 7-yard touchdown in the second quarter. He got them even at 14-14 with a 12-yard touchdown pass to Todd Pinkston in the fourth quarter when he escaped two pass rushers and found his scrambling wide receiver in the corner of the end zone.

But it wasn't until the Packers had regained the lead on a 21-yard field goal by Ryan Longwell, and the Eagles were facing the final play of their season, that he delivered his miracle.

It came after the Packers, leading 17-14, ran 5:30 off the fourth-quarter clock with a relentless running game. The Eagles got the ball with 2:21 left on their own 20. Staley broke a 22-yard run to reach the two-minute warning.

But two incompletions and a 16-yard sack left the Eagles facing fourth-and-26 from their 26. The season was on the line. But McNabb was in charge.

"We've done it before," McNabb said. "We had fourth-and-whatever against San Francisco and put the ball in the end zone. Looking in the guys eyes in the huddle, we stayed confident."

McNabb made it happen by getting his pass off just over the outstretched arm of a rushing Packer. Downfield, Mitchell made a nifty catch when McNabb put the ball on his back shoulder.


"Don threw a back-shoulder [pass] to me and I made a play," Mitchell said. "If he would've put it up ahead of me, I'd have gotten crushed."

McNabb converted a third-and-7 pass to Pinkston to reach the Green Bay 19 and after two incomplete passes, Reid sent Akers onto the field on third down for the game-tying kick.

In overtime, the Eagles got the ball first but went three-and-out after the Packers' eighth sack of the game.

Remarkably, Favre gave the ball right back on the Packers' first play of overtime when he recognized a blitz and heaved a post route in the direction of Javon Walker. The second-year receiver pulled up though, and the floating pass was picked off easily by safety Brian Dawkins.

The fact the Packers were throwing in overtime when Ahman Green had rushed for a team playoff record 156 yards left Sherman open to scrutiny, as did his decision to go for a touchdown on fourth-and-inches with Green near the end of the first half. Green tripped over his own lineman and was stuffed, allowing the Eagles to steal momentum.

The Eagles went 21 yards in six plays after the interception. An 8-yard pass by McNabb and a tackle-breaking, 11-yard run by Staley got the Eagles in field-goal position for Akers. After the wind blew his first field-goal attempt wide left, he compensated on the last two by aiming for the right upright.


"I knew I hit them far enough right," he said. "They'd have to track a huge, huge distance [back to the left, to miss]."