Published December 22, 2010
PHILADELPHIA – He's built more like a ballboy than a football player, and his end zone antics drive his coach and some of his teammates crazy.
If he keeps making big plays, though, DeSean Jackson can do whatever he wants when he scores.
The diminutive Jackson — he's generously listed at 5-foot-10 and 175 pounds — is one of the most exciting players to watch in any sport. When he gets the ball, he's a threat to take it the distance from anywhere on the field.
Just ask the New York Giants.
Jackson's 65-yard punt return on the final play capped an incredible rally last Sunday and gave the Philadelphia Eagles a 38-31 win over the Giants in a battle for the NFC East lead.
Of course, Jackson didn't take the easy route into the end zone. He stuck the ball in the air and began his celebration around the 5. When he reached the 1, he ran across the field before finally crossing the goal line.
This time, however, Jackson wasn't showboating. He wanted to make sure there would be no time left on the clock when he scored.
"I did that on purpose," Jackson told The Associated Press on Wednesday. "Trying to be a smart player."
Jackson doesn't always make wise decisions on the field. The speedy wide receiver drew an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty in a 30-27 win over Dallas two weeks ago after a career-best 91-yard TD catch because he stopped at the 1, turned his back to the end zone, held the ball out and flopped backward.
In his second game as a rookie in 2008, Jackson committed one of the all-time bonehead plays. He turned a 61-yard TD catch into a 60-yard reception and fumble because he was so eager to dance that he flipped the ball backward at the 1. That play also was in Dallas and it was in front of a national audience on a Monday night. The Cowboys didn't pick up the ball, so the Eagles kept possession.
In 2005, Jackson made a similar mental blunder in the U.S. All-American Bowl for high school players. On his way into the end zone after a long catch, he dove from the 5 and landed at the 1.
Perhaps he's learned from his mistakes because he actually scored against the Giants before throwing the ball into the stands.
Eagles coach Andy Reid and quarterback Michael Vick both made critical comments after Jackson's backward flop against the Cowboys cost the Eagles 15 yards on the kickoff. Jackson didn't care for the criticism.
"People dive into the end zone all day — it shouldn't have been a penalty," Jackson said. "I turned around backwards, so that is probably why, but I am going to continue to do what I do and to entertain. That is my job and to make plays and to give the crowd and the fans what they want."
Jackson is one of the top receivers in the NFL, and he's arguably the most dangerous kick returner along with Chicago's Devin Hester. Last season, Jackson was the first player ever selected to the Pro Bowl at two positions.
Coming off a 210-yard receiving performance against the Cowboys, Jackson was shut down most of the game by New York. He had three catches for 52 yards. But Jackson can make a difference on special teams, so Reid called on him to return a punt after the Eagles rallied from a 21-point deficit with 7:18 left to tie it.
Giants rookie Matt Dodge was supposed to kick the ball away from Jackson, but he failed. Jackson made him pay, taking it all the way for his fourth career TD on a punt return. He initially muffed the line-drive kick, then scooped up the ball and darted up the middle of the field virtually untouched.
"I suppose what you're looking for in a returner is obviously speed, agility and all that, but there are some returners that have an extra quality, they're able to make something out of nothing, and that's Devin Hester and DeSean Jackson," Eagles punter Sav Rocca said. "It's the ones that can make something out of nothing that you're a little bit afraid of. Even if you do your job correctly, it can still fall to pieces at times."
Jackson has scored a rushing, receiving and punt-return touchdown in each of his first three seasons, becoming only the second player in NFL history to do so. He has 45 catches this season for 1,024 yards and six TDs. He's also run for 104 yards and a score.
Jackson missed one game this year after suffering his second concussion in two seasons. Critics say he's too small to go over the middle and suggest that he's limited to running only deep routes down the sideline. But Jackson's teammates dispute those claims and praise his toughness.
"The thing about him that I've always respected is he's fearless," Eagles safety Quintin Mikell said. "A lot of times these smaller guys, they don't really come across the middle, they're always on the outside of the field. I think that's one thing about him that makes him tough is he can run any route. Everything's in play with him. He's very fluid. To be able to break a route off but still not lose any speed is something a lot of people can't do."
Jackson, a second-round pick in 2008, has one season left on his four-year, $3.4 million rookie deal, which included a $1.3 million signing bonus. He's made it clear to anyone who'll listen that he expects a big payday real soon.
He'll have plenty of supporters when he goes to negotiate his new deal.
"That man is one of the most incredible athletes I've ever seen in my life," Eagles cornerback Asante Samuel said. "He doesn't have the size, but the speed, the quickness, the agility, the hand-eye coordination. One of the most incredible athletes I've ever seen. Hell of a player. A lot of heart."