Posted November 29, 2011

Coach Killers, Week 12: DeSean Jackson

Philadelphia Eagles

DeSean Jackson's drops against the Patriots were just the latest blemish on an increasingly disappointing season for the wideout. (ZUMAPRESS.com)

Every week, we’ll take a look at a player or team whose bad performance did the most to raise the stress level of their coach.

Twice in Sunday’s game against the Patriots, Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson had a touchdown pass from Vince Young in his hands. Twice, Jackson dropped the ball.

In the second quarter with Philadelphia down 21-10, Jackson found himself open in the end zone on a 3rd-and-goal from the Patriots 4. Young’s pass forced him to stretch to his right to grab it, something that Jackson, apparently, was not in the mood to do. He instead displayed the classic “alligator arms” effort, pulling his arms back — and letting the ball fall incomplete — so he would not get hit.

Young looked Jackson’s way again in the third quarter, delivering what looked destined to be a touchdown on a 49-yard bomb. But Jackson let the ball slip through his arms with New England safety Sergio Brown closing.

Eagles coach Andy Reid benched Jackson after that, with the explanation that he “wanted to give the other guys an opportunity.”

The 24-year-old Jackson is in the fourth and final year of his rookie contract, and some team will pay him big bucks once that deal expires. It just looks less and less likely that that team will be the Eagles.

Jackson held out this offseason in hopes of drawing a raise out of Philadelphia. He topped 1,000 yards receiving each of the past two years, but is making just $600,000 this year.

The Eagles passed. Jackson came back anyway and has taken part in 10 of 11 games this season, but it’s hard to argue he’s been the same player.

And maybe the Eagles brought some of this on themselves. Jackson, after all, missed a game last season after being annihilated by Atlanta’s Dunta Robinson in Week 6. It was one of the more vicious hits you’ll ever see in an NFL game and left Jackson with a severe concussion.

Given that his contract runs out after this season and he’s had multiple concussions in his career, maybe you can understand why he’s a little skittish going over the middle until he cashes in on a bigger deal.

Except that’s his job. That’s what the Eagles are paying him — even if it’s a minimal amount by NFL standards — to do.

Jackson still has 39 catches for 664 yards and two touchdowns this season, and at times, like on a 44-yard reception against the Patriots, puts his incredible speed and athleticism on display. There aren’t many players in the league with Jackson’s skill set, which is why he’ll no doubt find some suitors if he gets to free agency.

But for now, he’s one of the poster children for a season gone wrong in Philadelphia. The drops last Sunday were the latest in a string of mini-controversies surrounding Jackson this season, after he was made inactive against the Cardinals in Week 10 for missing a team meeting and a costly taunting penalty in Week 11 against the Giants that erased a 50-yard gain.

The Eagles were booed off the field Sunday, with chants of “Fi-re An-dy!” raining down on their coach’s head. In a game they absolutely had to win, the Eagles looked lethargic and disinterested in a 38-20 loss to the Patriots.

It was Jackson, though, whom Reid plucked from the lineup and planted on the bench.

Jackson, when speaking to reporters at his locker, on the two drops, said: “Things happen sometimes as a player. I’m honestly upset about it. It wasn’t one of my best games as far as a couple of plays I thought I could have had. At the end of the day, I didn’t come up with them. I’ve just got to move on and make other plays. I know I’m a better receiver. Them are plays I should have made. No excuses behind that. But I just didn’t have my best game today. It’s just frustrating but I’ve got to figure it out.”

A lot of things went wrong for Philadelphia Sunday, so pinning the entire 18-point loss on Jackson is misguided. Still, if he hauls in those two touchdown passes, it’s an extra 11 points for his team.

Maybe that would have given Philadelphia a chance in the fourth quarter. Maybe the whole team effort would not have seemed so lackadaisical.

For the Eagles’ offense to be at its best, Jackson has to be on his game, and that includes going into traffic to make catches — no matter if his prior injury or lack of a guaranteed contract beyond this year are weighing on his mind.

If nothing else, Jackson needs to prove to the rest of the NFL that he’s capable of being a reliable receiver. He’ll be looking for a new deal once the season is up, after all, whether he stays in Philadelphia or not.

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