TAMPA, Fla. — He'd basically won the game with two big catches. He'd tied Jerry Rice's deep-ball record. He'd recovered from a concussion in less than a week. But this was the postgame question DeSean Jackson was waiting for.
Do you have any extra pep in your step knowing you're facing your former team?
"I mean, any time I get to go against them dudes over there, man, I'm going at their necks, man."
Jackson took no more questions.
Once again, he went at their necks. Jackson caught four passes for 129 yards, including a 75-yard touchdown that opened the game and kneecapped the Birds, whom he beat again; this time, 27-21.
Jackson is 5-1 against the Eagles. He averages 94.8 yards and 4.0 catches per game, the most against any opponent he has faced at least six times. Of his 35 100-yard games, four have come against the Eagles, which means he hits 100 yards 66.7 percent of the time. He has four 100-yard games against the Cowboys, too, but he's played them 16 times, and that's just a 25 percent rate.
Jackson relishes days like Sunday.
"He kind of took the life out of them," teammate Mike Evans said. "We were beating them down, early."
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Evans caught 10 passes for 83 yards and a touchdown — a score set up by Jackson's 28-yard catch in the third quarter that made it 27-7. Earlier, tight end O.J. Howard had a 75-yard catch-and-run touchdown.
Ryan Fitzpatrick, a 35-year-old backup, went 27-for-33 with four touchdowns, which makes him 48-for-61 for 819 yards with eight touchdowns and an interception in his first two starts in place of "franchise" quarterback Jameis Winston, who is serving a three-game suspension. Fitzpatrick's passer rating is 151.5, but it would be even closer to a perfect 158.3 if Howard hadn't bobbled the ball that was intercepted. Fitzpatrick went to Harvard. He understands why.
"For me, it's unbelievable to have a guy like DeSean Jackson 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 right away."
The Eagles know that. Jackson's TD was his 23rd of 60 yards or more, which tied him with Rice for No. 1. Three of those long TDs have come against the Eagles. The 75-yarder Sunday was the shortest.
Jackson was in a good enough mood immediately after the game to send Ivy-bred Fitzpatrick to his postgame news conference in Jackson's sleek nylon running-suit jacket, half-unzipped, as well as Jackson's bling — two thick necklaces, a watch, and a bracelet. The effect: a king-sized Conor McGregor.
By the time reporters asked him about the Eagles, though, Jackson's mood had darkened.
He's still bitter. You can't blame him.
Former coach Chip Kelly and top executive Howie Roseman not only cut Jackson in March 2014, they did so hours after a story connected him to years-old gang violence and a marijuana arrest — "concerns" that were just a smokescreen for releasing a popular, productive player in his prime. Kelly was fired near the end of 2015. Jackson has done fine since he left the Eagles: 203 catches, 3,562 yards, 21 touchdowns, counting the playoffs. At end of this season, he will have made $47 million. Still, he's salty. Why?
Jackson's not mad at his former teammates, of course. Seven of them are still on the roster. After the game, Jackson took pains to shake hands and hug several of them: Jason Peters, Brandon Graham, Nick Foles. Jackson was the last person to leave the field at Raymond James Stadium. He never played with Jay Ajayi, but after Ajayi sent an autographed jersey to the Bucs' locker room for Jackson, D-Jax sent one back.
He's mad at the organization. It fuels him.
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He played three seasons in Washington and last year here. He'll be 32 in December. Predictably, for a 5-foot-10, 175-pound burner, his production has dwindled: 14.5 games per season with the Eagles versus 13.5 games since; 59 catches per season with the Birds, 48 since; 1,019 yards per season in Philly, 842 since. But his 17.6 yards per catch the past four seasons is actually a little higher than the 17.2 he averaged in Philly. He's a big-play machine.
He's averaging 30.6 yards per catch in his first two games. After catching five passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in the opening win against the Saints, you could contend that Jackson has never been more productive in consecutive outings. He's caught more passes for more yards four times from 2009 to '13, but he never had three TDs in those combined games.
Jackson usually fades for a few weeks after outbursts like this. Sometimes he gets hurt but usually, he just gets blanketed. His presence changes everything. Defensive coordinators don't blitz their defensive backs. Safeties cheat toward his side. Jackson runs across zones and attracts defenders so the receivers who follow him find themselves open. And cornerbacks burned once, as Jalen Mills was on the first play, tend to allow him outrageous amounts of cushion.
That's how Jackson picked up a first down on second-and-13 with 2 minutes, 36 seconds to play. He caught a 17-yard out pattern. Mills was not within 5 yards of him. The Eagles trailed by six, but that play essentially ended the Eagles' chance at a comeback.
"Any time you've got a deep threat like him, you've got to stay conscious of it," said Tampa Bay left tackle Donovan Smith. "That helps us."
It's helped the Bucs to their first 2-0 start since 2010. It's helped Fitzpatrick lay claim to the starting job, especially since Jackson wasn't impressed with Winston last season. The catch also was Jackson's 28th TD of 50 yards or more, which moved him into third place alone, ahead of Lance Alworth and Terrell Owens. Randy Moss has 29. Rice has 30.
Rice, Moss, Owens, and Alworth are in the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Jackson might end up in Canton, too.
He will if he keeps playing the Eagles.