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Archive for Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Win still sinking in for Eagles

January 13, 2004

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— The Eagles know they have to look forward now.

They know they have to immediately set their sights on the Carolina Panthers, the final obstacle between them and the franchise's first trip to the Super Bowl in 23 years.

It was impossible, however, not to take one more look back at the improbable play that led to Sunday's 20-17 overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers at Lincoln Financial Field.

"I woke up at 3:30 in the morning and I said to myself, 'We won that game,'" Eagles defensive coordinator Jim Johnson said Monday after watching film of the Panthers' overtime win against St. Louis. "It was unbelievable. The whole game to me was a classic. I'll never forget that game."

Johnson, 62, has been in the coaching business since 1959, and he had to go back a long way to find anything that came close to Sunday's win over the Packers. He settled upon the first of many spectacular comebacks constructed by Hall of Fame quarterback Joe Montana.

As the defensive coordinator at Notre Dame, he watched an extremely ill Montana lead the Fighting Irish back from a 34-12 deficit in the third quarter to beat Houston in the 1979 Cotton Bowl.

"At halftime of that game, Joe was laying on the trainer's table shaking," Johnson said.

Montana and Notre Dame may have faced sickness and a greater deficit than Donovan McNabb and the Eagles, but the Irish didn't have to deal with a fourth-and-26 situation with an entire season on the line.

Based on how the Eagles' offense had performed all season when presented with situations of third-and-10 or longer, the odds were even higher for them than most teams. The Eagles were 5 for 55 on those third-and-long plays, a 9.1 percentage that was the second worst in the NFL.

Instead, Freddie Mitchell burst off the line of scrimmage and worked his way into the middle of the field. With three Packers defenders closing fast, McNabb intentionally threw the ball slightly behind Mitchell, who made a remarkable catch before falling forward for the first down.

And then it was first and 10 and the Eagles were on their way to a game-tying field goal by David Akers with five seconds remaining in regulation.

"I guess you go back to the Pittsburgh-Oakland (Immaculate Reception) game or something of that sort," Eagles coach Andy Reid said when asked if he could think of a more miraculous catch.

Reid was asked if he actually had any plays on his card designed for a fourth-and-26 situation.

"You punt the ball," he said. "That's about the only play you have on fourth and 26.

"The best thing you can do is get yourself downfield before the defensive line can get there."

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