SO, WHICH IS the real DeSean Jackson?
Is he the player who, upon scoring a 64-yard touchdown yesterday against the Kansas City Chiefs, decided to make a spectacle of himself as he crossed the goal line, doing a diving somersault that ended up with him doing a split?
Or is he the player who, hours earlier, in the quiet of the Eagles' locker room, made the decision to take a pain-killing injection so that he would be able to play with a groin injury that limited his practice time during the week?
That he is both players is obvious enough. Still, on another big day for Jackson and the Eagles in a 34-14 win over the feeble Chiefs, there were these dual identities on display.
One screams New School: emotional, self-centered, look at me. The other whispers Old School: selfless, maybe reckless, taking the needle.
"I was able to get a shot before the game and make some of that pain go away," Jackson said. "So the pain wasn't a factor today. I was able to go out there and produce like I needed to. That was the only way I was going to be able to play. There was no point in me playing if I'm not capable of doing the things I'm capable of as a receiver."
The records tumbled like toddlers yesterday. Jackson had a career-high 149 receiving yards against the Chiefs. He has had a touchdown of longer than 60 yards in each of the last three games, the first NFL player to do that since Dante Hall did it for the Chiefs in 2003 and the first Eagles player to do it since Jack Ferrante in 1945.
The Kevin Kolb-to-Jackson connection is the first to turn in two 60-yard touchdowns in back-to-back games for the Eagles since Ron Jaworski and Mike Quick in 1985.
And there was one more first: his first needle.
"It's definitely kind of a hard decision," Jackson said. "I just asked some of the players that did it before and stuff. I just have confidence that they'll tell me the right things about it."
Depending upon the nature of the injury - which we don't know - the injection poses either little risk or some risk. The concern is obvious enough: In some injuries, all you are doing is masking the pain, which is the body's great defense mechanism. Mask the pain and you can do more damage. The equation is simple enough.
Elite professional athletes make these decisions all the time. They weigh things on a different scale than the rest of us. They have surgeries that we wouldn't think of having, all so they can get back to the field quicker. They take risks that we wouldn't think of taking. Sometimes, they take injections.
But there is this thing about Jackson. He is a great player, and he has some great qualities, but he risks trivializing his image with the rest of this stuff. We all know what happened last year, when a premature celebration in Dallas cost him a touchdown. He already has been penalized and fined this season for a touchdown celebration that went too far. Now, this.
He laughs about it. He says he does not plan the celebrations ahead of time. He says, "Honestly, I don't. It's just one of those things where you're out there . . . and whatever comes to your mind you kind of just do.
"I'm just having fun. I know I can't afford to do no bonehead plays . . . It just shows how energetic I am. Sometimes it's bonehead plays, but I'm definitely playing the game with a lot of passion and having fun. I'm never going to take that away."
He is such a good player, so fast. The second season, when teams have learned about you and schemed for you, is supposed to be harder - but Jackson, who looked from the first day of training camp like a man tied to a rocket, has not had a misstep. As he said, "I'm not worried about the sophomore jinx or whatever it is. In reality, it's up to me to go out there and keep making plays."
He has, very quickly, nudged himself into the conversation when you talk about elite receivers in the NFL. The touchdown yesterday, when he turned a simple slant into salvation - taking a ball thrown slightly behind him and still turning effortlessly upfield - was the kind of play that really makes a West Coast offense look good. It makes you want to see them force the ball to Jackson, just so you can see what happens next.
Because of the groin, and the lack of practice, coach Andy Reid kept Jackson out of the Wildcat position and out of some of the punt returns yesterday. The real risk with this guy is overexposing him and wearing him down. Still, the temptation has to be enormous when you see him running away from people - when, as he said about his view on that slant play, "Nothing but green grass and the end zone."
Jackson is the Eagles' most exciting player, taking over the mantle from Brian Westbrook. No one would dispute that now. But he is still developing, as is his reputation. What we learned yesterday is that this is more complicated than a diving somersault into the end zone.
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