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DeSean Jackson, surprising Buccaneers off to blazing start

September 17, 2018
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Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver DeSean Jackson (11) grabs a pass over Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby (21), during the second half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Sept. 16, 2018, in Tampa, Fla. (AP Photo/Chris O'Meara)

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Ryan Fitzpatrick isn’t the only reason the surprising Tampa Bay Buccaneers are off to their fastest start in eight years.

Speedy receiver DeSean Jackson is making a difference, too, finally beginning to deliver what the team has been expecting since signing him in free agency before last season.

Fitzpatrick has thrown for 819 yards and eight touchdowns in victories over New Orleans and defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia the past two weeks. Jackson has a pair of 100-yard games receiving and three TDs — two of them on plays of 50-plus yards.

“It’s unbelievable. He’s playing out of this world right now,” said Jackson, who scored on a 75-yard reception of the first play of scrimmage in Sunday’s 27-21 win over the Eagles.

“He’s in his prime,” the 31-year-old receiver added of the 35-year-old quarterback who’s filling in for suspended starter Jameis Winston. “Us old guys, we are in our prime. He’s playing like he’s 28 and I’m playing like I’m 24. So as long as we keep doing that, it’s going to be a good year.”

Jackson, coming off a disappointing debut with the Bucs in 2017, has nine catches for 275 yards and three TDs the past two weeks after having one of his least productive seasons with 50 receptions for 668 yards and three TDs in 14 games a year ago.

He followed a five-catch, 146-yard, two-TD performance against the Saints with a four-catch, 129-yard performance against the Eagles.

And with TDs of 58 and 75 yards this season, he’s eased ahead of Hall of Famers Lance Alworth and Terrell Owens for the third-most TD receptions of 50-plus yards behind Hall of Famers Jerry Rice (36) and Randy Moss (29).

Jackson, who spent six seasons with the Eagles and three with the Washington Redskins before signing a three-year, $33.5 million contract to join the Bucs, has 23 career TDs of 60 or more yards — tied with Rice for most in league history.

“I talked about this since I was younger, it’s being legendary and leaving something for the league to understand that I made my mark, man,” Jackson said. “I still have a lot of ball left in me. To tie Jerry Rice’s records is very emotional for me.”

When Tampa Bay signed Jackson in March 2017, the Bucs were coming off a 9-7 finish the season before and envisioned the speedy wideout adding a much-needed element to their offense: a deep threat not only capable of stretching defenses, but someone able to turn short completions into big gainers.

“For me, it’s unbelievable to have a guy like DeSean out there running around,” Fitzpatrick said. “Loft the ball up and he can go get it and turn it into a 75-yard touchdown. He’s a special player, and he showed that again.”

Through two games, Fitzpatrick has four completions of 50-plus yards, all for touchdowns. In addition to teaming with Jackson on the first play against Philadelphia, the 14-year veteran connected with tight end O.J. Howard on a 75-yard catch-and-run play against the Eagles.

Meanwhile, four-time 1,000-yard receiver Mike Evans and second-year pro Chris Godwin each have two TD receptions.

“We have good skill guys. ... Chris Godwin is an emerging star. O.J. Howard is an emerging star. DeSean Jackson, Mike Evans (are) proven, big-time players,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “If you really think about it, we’ve still got Cam Brate and Adam Humphries, who just aren’t getting very many chances right now.”

Next up is a Monday night matchup against Pittsburgh at home, with a chance to begin a season with three consecutive wins for the first time since 2005.

“You can’t peak too early. We have a lot of football left,” Jackson said.

“We have a big one coming up with Big Ben (Roethlisberger) and AB (Antonio Brown) coming to town,” the receiver added. “I grew-up a Steeler fan, so I’m going to be amped up for that game too.”

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