4th and 26
4th and 26 is the commonly used name for a famous play on Sunday, January 11, 2004, during the 2003–04 NFL playoffs. The play occurred during the fourth quarter of a divisional playoff game between the visiting Green Bay Packers and the Philadelphia Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
The NFC East champion and top-seeded Eagles were coming off an opening round bye while the fourth-seeded, NFC North champion Packers were the visiting team, coming off an overtime win over the Seattle Seahawks.
Midway through the first quarter, Packers linebacker Nick Barnett recovered a fumble from quarterback Donovan McNabb on the Eagles 40-yard line, and Green Bay quarterback Brett Favre threw a 40-yard touchdown pass to Robert Ferguson on the next play. James Thrash returned the ensuing kickoff 36 yards to the 44-yard line. Then McNabb made up for his mistake with a 41-yard run to the Packers 15. But the drive stalled at the 14-yard line and ended with no points when David Akers missed a 30-yard field goal attempt. After the missed field goal, Ahman Green rushed three times for 31 yards before Favre threw his second touchdown pass to Ferguson, giving the Packers a 14–0 lead with 1:16 left in the first quarter.
In the second quarter, McNabb led the Eagles on a scoring drive, completing five consecutive passes for 77 yards, including a 45-yard pass to Todd Pinkston. On the last play, his 7-yard touchdown pass to Duce Staley cut it to 14–7. Green Bay took the kickoff and drove 67 yards to the Eagles 1-yard line, featuring a 33-yard run by Green, but on fourth down, Green tripped on guard Mike Wahle's leg and was tackled for no gain. The Packers turned the ball over on downs.
Late in the third quarter, the Eagles drove 88 yards in 8 plays to tie the game, despite two 10-yard penalties against them on the drive. McNabb was responsible for all of the yards on the drive, rushing for 37 yards and completing four passes for 72, including a 12-yard touchdown pass to Pinkston that tied the game at 14 on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Later, Antonio Chatman's 10-yard punt return gave the Packers great field position on their own 49-yard line. On the next play, Favre threw a 44-yard completion to Javon Walker. Philadelphia's defense kept Green Bay out of the end zone, but Ryan Longwell kicked a 21-yard field goal to give them a 17–14 lead.
The drive started with a 22-yard run by Duce Staley, but on the next play, McNabb threw for an incomplete pass. Subsequently, on second down the Eagles were penalized 5 yards for a false start. On the ensuing play, a sack pushed the Eagles back to their own 25 yard line, and on third down McNabb threw another incompletion. The Eagles, faced with a fourth down and 26 yards, needed to convert for a first down, with only 1:12 remaining and no timeouts available.
On fourth down, the play (74 Double Go) called for a slant route to wide receiver Freddie Mitchell. McNabb threw a perfect strike to Mitchell deep into the Packers' secondary. The Packers' coverage, a Cover 2 package, broke down and was sharply criticized by broadcaster Cris Collinsworth. Linebacker Nick Barnett, who was responsible for shallow coverage of Mitchell, decided to bite on the tight end. Inexplicably, Darren Sharper, who was partially responsible for deep coverage of Mitchell, played past the first down marker positioning himself for an interception rather than preventing any catch in front of the marker. The only player that was close to making a play, Packers' safety Bhawoh Jue, was playing the sidelines as is customary in Cover 2 defense and was too late to prevent a catch or first down. Mitchell completed a leaping reception and was brought down at the Packers 46, giving the Eagles a first down.
The play set up David Akers' 37-yard field goal attempt after McNabb ran for another first down. The field goal was good, and the game went into overtime, when Eagles safety Brian Dawkins was able to intercept an errant Brett Favre pass and return it 35 yards, setting up another Akers field goal try. The 31-yard kick was good, giving the Eagles a dramatic 20–17 victory and sent them to their third straight NFC Championship Game, which they lost to the Carolina Panthers.
- Anderson, Dave (January 16, 2004). "Fourth-and-26 Has No Meaning Yet for Eagles". The New York Times. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
- Reid, Ron (January 15, 2004). "'Fourth and 26' joins some famous names in big-play annals". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
- Brookover, Bob (December 2, 2004). "Fourth and 26 Forever: The Eagles will never forget Freddie Mitchell's catch. They just wish it led to something bigger.". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
- Fitzpatrick, Frank (January 7, 2011). "Recalling Eagles' Fourth and 26". Philadelphia Inquirer. Retrieved October 18, 2012.
- Frank, Reuben (January 5, 2011). "Donovan to FredEx: Fourth-and-26 revisited". Comcast Sports Net Philadelphia. Retrieved October 18, 2012.