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Mitchell steps up in Owens' absence

PHILADELPHIA (AP) _ Freddie Mitchell leaped and caught his first touchdown pass of the season, tucked the ball under his arm and quietly jogged to the sideline.

The bigger surprise wasn't that it took Mitchell 15 games to finally get a TD. The stunner came when the outspoken wide receiver known for his flamboyant antics didn't celebrate his first score in the Philadelphia Eagles' 20-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams on Monday night.

I'm still going to have fun,'' Mitchell said.I'm going to save it for the (NFC) championship game.''

Mitchell's 7-yard TD catch on a pass from Donovan McNabb that ended Philadelphia's first drive against the Rams was a significant boost for an offense still reeling from the loss of Pro Bowl wideout Terrell Owens.

With Owens sidelined by an ankle injury probably for the rest of the season he has an outside chance of playing in the Super Bowl if the Eagles get that far Mitchell moved into a starting role, joining the often-maligned Todd Pinkston.

Second-year pros Greg Lewis and Billy McMullen complete a heavily scrutinized receiving corps. Mitchell had two catches for 28 yards against St. Louis, while Lewis and McMullen had one catch apiece.

But McNabb left after the first series and backups Koy Detmer and Jeff Blake struggled behind the reserves on the offensive line.

When they had a chance, I thought they did a nice job,'' Eagles coach Andy Reid said of the receivers.We had a lot of pressure on our quarterback, obviously, and he had to get rid of the ball quite fast in that second half so they didn't have as many opportunities as probably they needed. But I'm not too worried about that.''

A first-round pick in 2001, Mitchell has never lived up to his hype. His best season was last year when he caught 35 passes for 498 yards and two TDs. He also made the playoff-saving 28-yard catch on a fourth-and-26 in the final minutes of the fourth quarter in Philadelphia's overtime victory against Green Bay last January.

But Owens' arrival this season has made Mitchell disappear in the offense. He has just 16 catches for 301 yards, tied with Pinkston for a team-high 18.8 yards per catch. Owens caught 77 passes for 1,200 yards and 14 TDs before being hurt. Pinkston has 36 receptions for 676 yards and one TD.

Mitchell has earned the nickname ``First Down Freddie'' for converting first downs on 72.6 percent of his receptions (61 of 84). He has 14 first downs this season.

But Mitchell, who also calls himself ``The People's Champ,'' has often expressed frustration over the lack of balls thrown his way this season.

If he keeps finding open holes in secondaries like he did against the Rams, he'll get plenty of passes in the playoffs.

I always think positive,'' Mitchell said.Whenever my number is called to score touchdowns, that's what I'll do. My job has been to get first downs, not touchdowns.''

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