Mitchell's time to fly high

Weeksixteen

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December 26, 2004|By KEN MURRAY | KEN MURRAY,SUN STAFF

Freddie Mitchell, a demonstrative, former first-round draft pick of the Philadelphia Eagles, hadn't embraced his role this season playing in the shadow of Pro Bowl receiver Terrell Owens.

He has jumped up after a catch, for instance, and pointed at his wrist, as if to say, "It's about time." He's not above complaining about quarterback Donovan McNabb's choice of pass targets, either, as he did on one occasion earlier in the season.

But now, after all the posturing and pouting, Mitchell gets his best chance in four years to show whether he can make plays downfield in the passing game. Owens almost certainly is done for the season with two torn ankle ligaments, and the Eagles need Mitchell to be a playmaker, not a troublemaker.

It is one of the intriguing subplots to the Eagles' latest bid for the Super Bowl.

Losing Owens was critical because he stretched the field and gave coach Andy Reid the ability to get running back Brian Westbrook in some decisive mismatches with the defense.

Without Owens, the Eagles are a playmaker short, just like last year when Westbrook was lost for the postseason with a triceps tear.

The popular opinion in Philadelphia is that had Westbrook been available for the NFC championship game last season, the Eagles wouldn't have lost to the Carolina Panthers, who had no answer for him.

Hindsight, yes. But Westbrook is that important to the Eagles' offense. In fact, it's not a reach to say he is more important to this offense than Owens was. Westbrook can make plays from a number of positions. Owens made plays downfield.

Owens didn't necessarily have an effect on every play. Westbrook almost always does.

That's why Reid likely will keep Westbrook under wraps tomorrow night when the Eagles play the St. Louis Rams, and in Week 17, when they finish the regular season against the Cincinnati Bengals. He can't risk the injury.

The likely upshot of Owens' absence is that McNabb will run the ball more, that wide receiver Todd Pinkston will get a chance to clear his reputation for shying away from contact, and that Mitchell will get a chance to show he was worth a No. 1 pick.

It's about time.

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