Eagles beat Packers with one of the greatest plays in playoff history
In the 2003 campaign playoffs, the Philadelphia Eagles faced the Green Bay Packers in the Divisional Round. Incredibly, for two franchises with such storied histories, this was only their second playoff encounter.
The encounter will go down in history as one of the greatest playoff matches of all time. A specific game would ensure that this game would be forever etched in league folklore, the fourth and 26.
Believe it or not, the offensive play callers have very few plays for fourth and 26 in the book. The selection is even more limited when you have one minute and twelve seconds left in the game with only one timeout remaining. Not to mention that you are camped on your own 26-yard line. With a divisional playoff game on the line, the task suddenly becomes highly unlikely.
Unlikely yes, impossible no. If you’re Andy Reid, one of the greatest offensive minds in the NFL’s pantheon of greats, it’s just another day at the office. On Sunday, January 11, 2004, the Green Bay Packers traveled to Lincoln Financial Field to take on the Reid-managed Philadelphia Eagles.
With the possibility of progressing to the NFC Championship Game, the stakes were high. The teams had a recent history, having met earlier in the season. On this occasion, the Eagles emerged with the victory. It was thanks to a touchdown pass from Donovan McNabb to Todd Pinkston with less than 30 seconds on the clock.
Green Bay Packers on their way to victory
With a 12-4 record and home-court advantage, the second-seeded Eagles entered the game as bookmakers’ favourites. While the Eagles roster spent the previous week resting, the Packers engaged in an intense battle with the Seattle Seahawks.
Green Bay would be taken to overtime before eventually sealing a 33-27 victory, setting up a rematch with the Eagles in Philadelphia. However, the Vegas form book and odds quickly disappeared as Green Bay took a 14-0 first quarter lead.
Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre connected twice with wide receiver Robert Ferguson for touchdowns. He took advantage of some great work from the Packers defense and a shameless Philadelphia offense. McNabb cut backs in the second stanza, finding Duce Staley with a seven-yard pass for his first touchdown.
Then came what many thought was the real turning point in the game. Immediately after Staley’s touchdown, Favre led the Green Bay offense to the Eagles’ one-yard line. Then on fourth base, running back Ahman Green was stuffed by the Philadelphia defense after tripping over guard Mike Wahle’s leg.
McNabb then conjured a magic eight-play, eighty-eight-yard drive as they tied the game at 14-14 with the first play of the fourth quarter. Much like their first meeting that season, defenses dominated play and the Eagles quickly produced another heroic position.
Late in the game, a 44-yard bomb from Favre pushed Green Bay to the Philadelphia six-yard line. Despite a new series of downs, Green Bay was again pushed back by the Eagles defense and had to settle for a field goal. With less than two minutes left, might that be enough? Maybe that should have been enough.
Fourth-and-26 as Eagles snatch victory from jaws of defeat
Staley’s twenty-two-yard canter got the practice off to a good start. However, an incomplete pass from McNabb, followed by a false start penalty, stalled the proceedings for the Eagles. When McNabb took an eleven-yard sack and then went incomplete, a Packers win looked assured.
Facing fourth and 26, Reid called a 74 Double Go that sent Freddie Mitchell into a deep oblique route. McNabb delivered the perfect ball, but the Packers defense, which was playing cover 2, incredibly disappeared.
It was probably the last game of the game. With the Eagles needing a first down, the Green Bay secondary took up position behind the scorer looking for an interception. When safety Bhawoh Jue failed to make a play, Mitchell’s momentum carried him over the line before the Packers’ deep coverage could reach him.
Philly would put themselves in position to tie the game with a basket from David Akers when time expired. The late drama seemed to deflate Green Bay, which looked beaten before the start of overtime.
Despite winning the coin toss and receiving the ball first, Favre quickly threw an interception to Brian Dawkins, and Akers was soon given the responsibility of kicking Philadelphia to a highly unlikely win. 20-17. He duly obliged.