On the first play of Sunday's game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Philadelphia Eagles, wide receiver DeSean Jackson lined up wide to the right and took off on a deep post. As he got downfield into his route, Jackson didn't look back to see if quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was looking in his direction. He looked up.
"The middle-field safety had to go cover Mike [Evans], so once he did that there was no single-high safety," said Jackson. "I looked up [to the] Jumbotron, I saw Fitz step back and throw and I'm, like, 'It's got to be coming to me.' He threw it to the middle of the field so I could run away from the defender, I cut back and the rest is history."
And it was history in a couple of very specific ways. For the Buccaneers, it was the longest play they have ever executed on the first offensive snap of a regular-season game. That covers 43 seasons and 662 outings. But for Jackson individually, it was a watershed moment in a career absolutely littered with big play moments.
Jackson's touchdown to open Sunday's game – against the team he played for in his first six NFL seasons, no less – was the 23rd of his career that covered 60 or more yards. No player in NFL history has more. One has the same total: Jerry Rice, the greatest receiver and perhaps the greatest player at any position in league history. To match Rice in such an exclusive category meant a lot to Jackson.
"For the league to understand, I made my mark," said Jackson. "I've still got a lot of ball left in me. To tie Jerry Rice's record is very emotional for me. I'm still playing. They're out there [saying] I lost a step, I'm slow, I can't play anymore. I'm just here for the long ball."
Jackson also moved out of a tie with Lance Alworth and Terrell Owens and into sole possession of third place in league history in terms of touchdown receptions of 50 or more yards, with 28. Through two games, he has nine catches for 275 yards and three touchdowns, averaging a gaudy 30.6 yards per reception. He has consistently won the one-on-one matchups that arise out of the Bucs being able to flood the field with talented pass-catchers, from Evans (17 catches for 230 yards and two scores in two games) to O.J. Howard (75-yard touchdown on Sunday) to Chris Godwin (third consecutive game with a touchdown catch) and beyond.
It's almost unfair that Jackson is using the Raymond James Stadium videoboards for another advantage, because it's clear that Fitzpatrick has his speed timed up well, which is allowing the Buccaneers to take advantage of those one-on-one wins. Fitzpatrick is now the first quarterback in NFL history to open a season with consecutive 400-yard, four-touchdown games, and Jackson has been an enormous part of that feat. That's probably also the reason that Fitzpatrick jokingly called out that Jackson had lost a step while the receiver was conducting postgame interviews in the locker room.
Oh, and it's probably why Fitzpatrick created a viral moment in his postgame press conference by coming into the game dressed in Jackson's shirt and elaborate necklace. It wasn't Fitzpatrick's usual look, but it looked good on him right then and there. Just like Jackson looked good streaking down the middle of the field on Sunday's first play, separating himself from the defense.
"It was one of those plays where DeSean's really fast and he makes me look really good," said Fitzpatrick. "I just throw the ball up, he runs underneath and knows how to do the rest. There's a reason he's scored that many touchdowns over 60 yards."