- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 16, 2005

PHILADELPHIA — The Philadelphia Eagles’ Todd Pinkston and Freddie Mitchell are opposites in many ways. Pinkston prefers finesse routes and a lack of attention. Mitchell likes going over the middle and “shoving it in your face.”

What Pinkston and Mitchell, Philadelphia’s starting receivers, share is a combined failure to measure up to injured Pro Bowl wideout Terrell Owens. If the underachieving pair doesn’t produce in today’s divisional playoff game against surprising visitor Minnesota, top-seeded Philadelphia’s supposedly inevitable march through the NFC playoffs could end as soon as it starts.

The Eagles (13-3) or Vikings (9-8) will advance to next Sunday’s NFC Championship game against Atlanta, a 47-17 winner last night over St. Louis.

Owens, whom the Eagles acquired from San Francisco two months after Pinkston, Mitchell and Co. failed to deliver in a 14-3 loss to visiting Carolina in last January’s NFC finale, had 77 catches for 1,200 yards and 14 touchdowns in 14 games before fracturing a fibula against Dallas on Dec.19.

Pinkston, who has started all year, and Mitchell, a much-used third wideout until Owens went down, combined for 58 catches, 1,053 yards and just three touchdowns. Their numbers were similar last year when James Thrash — now with Washington — was the No.1 receiver: 71 catches, 1,073 yards and four touchdowns.

“Now these guys will get a chance to show what they can do without me,” Owens told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “Hopefully, it won’t be a repeat situation of pre-T.O.”

That kind of thinking, no matter how honest, makes other Eagles bristle. Pinkston called the presumption that he and Mitchell won’t measure up “a slap in the face.” Added Mitchell: “T.O. has his special qualities. I have mine. I can’t be T.O., and he can’t be Freddie Mitchell.”

Pro Bowl quarterback Donovan McNabb didn’t even wait for the question to be asked.

“I know you guys have questions about the receiving corps since T.O. is hurt,” McNabb said. “T.O. isn’t the only receiver. I’m not really worried about any negative things happening to us in the pass game. It’s going to be awesome. We’re going to open up some eyes and make people understand that we can run this offense with the guys we have.”

But pressed about what Pinkston and Mitchell can do, McNabb reversed field and praised the playmaking abilities of running back Brian Westbrook and tight ends L.J. Smith and Chad Lewis.

“We have more weapons than just T.O.,” McNabb said. “When [defenses] focused on T.O., you saw guys like Westbrook, L.J. and Chad step up and make plays. If they focus on Westbrook, you’ll see more guys step up and make plays.”

To his credit, the 6-foot, 195-pound Mitchell, a first-round pick in the 2001 draft, has been on the receiving end of McNabb’s two most remarkable plays: the fourth-and-26 completion that helped pull out a 2003 playoff victory over Green Bay and a 60-yard bomb this year in Dallas after the quarterback evaded pass-rushers for 14 seconds.

“I find holes in the defense,” Mitchell said. “I’m a chain-mover. I get first downs. I’m not worried about scoring.”

The 6-foot-3, 180-pound Pinkston, a second-rounder in 2000, apparently worries about getting hit hard. Pinkston’s 18.8-yard average was the highest of any receiver with at least 30 catches, but he shied from contact on throws over the middle in each of the Eagles’ NFC East rematches after Thanksgiving. And Pinkston was shut out against physical play by Panthers cornerback Ricky Manning in the 2003 NFC title game.

“When you go back to last year, all people talk about is the Carolina game,” Pinkston said. “And this year it has been all about those [three plays against the New York Giants, Redskins and Cowboys]. Now everybody is [saying], ‘Get rid of him.’ I don’t worry about that. This is a new year and a new playoff.”

On that point, Philadelphia’s receivers are as one.

“We don’t let our past affect our future,” Mitchell said.

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