Akers kicks Eagles into third straight NFC title game

Published: Monday, January 12, 2004 at 6:01 a.m.
Last Modified: Monday, January 12, 2004 at 12:14 a.m.

PHILADELPHIA- In the waning moments of a frigid playoff game, David Akers was cool as could be.

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Philadelphia's Freddie Mitchell pumps his fist after catching a fourth down pass for 28 yards late in the fourth quarter against Green Bay during the NFC divisional playoff game Sunday in Philadelphia. The Packers' Al Harris is at left.

The Associated Press

Akers made two clutch kicks in the cold Sunday, sending the Philadelphia Eagles to their third straight NFC championship game with a 20-17 overtime victory against the Green Bay Packers.

"I knew if I had an opportunity, I had to aim toward the right pole," Akers said. "We all found a way to dig down. Everyone did."

They were the biggest field goals of a stellar career for Akers, a two-time Pro Bowler who ranks second on the NFL's all-time accuracy list for kickers. But he struggled just to make it as a pro.

After a record-setting college career at Louisville, Akers was cut by Carolina, Washington and Atlanta. He worked as a substitute teacher in a Kentucky middle school and was a waiter at a steakhouse in Georgia before signing with the Eagles in 1999.

Since then, he's become one of the most consistent kickers in the league. He finished fourth in the NFC in points this season and kicked a career-best 57-yard field goal against New England in September.

Yet he almost ended up a goat Sunday after missing wide left on a 33-yard field-goal attempt in the first quarter. Those three points nearly proved to be the difference _ until Donovan McNabb rallied the Eagles back from an early 14-0 deficit.

With Philadelphia trailing 17-14 late in the fourth quarter, McNabb led the Eagles down the field, converting a fourth-and-26 with a 28-yard pass to Freddie Mitchell.

A 10-yard pass to Todd Pinkston set up Akers for a 37-yard field-goal attempt, and he calmly came off the bench to nail it with 5 seconds remaining in regulation.

That sent the game into overtime.

After Eagles safety Brian Dawkins intercepted Brett Favre's ill-advised pass and returned it 35 yards to the 34, Duce Staley ran 11 yards to put Akers in position for the game-winner.

Green Bay tried to freeze Akers with a timeout, but he wasn't rattled. He drilled a 31-yard field goal right down the middle and was mobbed by his teammates.

"When you look back at it, it's pretty amazing," Akers said.

Green Bay might have tried to take another timeout before the kick. Cletidus Hunt said the Packers didn't try to block the field goal because they heard an official's whistle.

"Yeah, there was a timeout called, a whistle and then everybody rushed the field, and you know the refs, crazy as Philly fans are supposed to be, the refs weren't going to make everybody come back out and reset it," Hunt said.

Packers coach Mike Sherman chased down the officials, but said he couldn't get an explanation.

Akers kicked the winner into a stiff cross wind _ at the same end as his early miss _ but said it did not affect his approach.

"You really don't feel that wind as much from the 25 to the 50-yard line," Akers said. "You really feel it around the 5-yard line and goal line. It really whips in there. It comes in hard from that diagonal opening."

Only twice has Akers missed more than one field goal in a game for the Eagles. The second time came in the regular-season home finale against San Francisco last month, when he missed from 42 and 47 yards.

His teammates and coaches appreciate his consistency.

"I understand that a kicker doesn't make or break a team and doesn't win or lose a game," Akers said. "I know that it's like a quarterback, where a lot of the glory and the blame is put on that person, and it comes with the territory. You swallow your pride sometimes and you get patted on the back sometimes when you shouldn't."

The Eagles, who narrowly avoided being eliminated from the playoffs at home for the second straight season, will host Carolina next Sunday _ with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

If they get there, Akers will be one of the biggest reasons.

"There were plenty of chances to tank and these guys didn't do it," coach Andy Reid said. "Everybody gets a little credit today for that type of win."

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