TAMPA — Vincent Jackson always has been known as a big-play receiver, a vertical threat with speed to get behind defenders and the size to outmuscle them deep downfield for the football.
The only question for the 29-year-old entering this season was, at 6 feet 5, 230 pounds, could he show more growth at playing his position?
Jackson's performance in the Bucs' 23-21 loss Sunday to the Philadelphia Eagles offered more evidence that he is the complete package.
The super-sized, super-athletic Jackson took over the game on offense for the Bucs in the second half Sunday.
Lining up as the middle receiver in a bunch formation, he beat Eagles linebacker Jamar Chaney on an arrow route before splitting safety Nate Allen and cornerback Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie for a 13-yard touchdown. He also added a 40-yard catch on a post route and a 25-yard reception on a stutter and go, beating cornerback Curtis Marsh and safety Nate Allen on both plays.
Jackson finished with six catches for 131 yards and a touchdown, marking the fourth time this season he has eclipsed the century mark.
"He's been such an impact player for us, first by his performance on the field, the plays he has made, the consistency, his professionalism, how he approached himself and the versatility," Bucs offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan said. "Because here is a guy who makes some plays on shorter throws, run after catches, in the tight green zone and yet still a vertical threat.
"The big block he had on (Doug Martin's) touchdown run, he was able to come and dig out the safety. So this is a complete, physical presence, a dominant physical presence. He's a joy to be around, he's a leader, he's part of the solution, we're really fortunate to have him."
Jackson is seventh in the NFL with 1,145 yards and eight touchdowns on 56 catches. His 20.4-yard average is tops in the league. What's more, he has proven he can play inside the numbers, take hits and hang onto the football.
Considering how NFL free agency can produce a bunch of million-dollar maybes, Jackson has lived up to his hype as the best available weapon on the market last spring. Considering that guard Carl Nicks suffered a season-ending foot injury and cornerback Eric Wright was suspended four games for what he says was Adderall use, Jackson seems like a good purchase coming over from the Chargers at five years, $55.5 million.
"I'm pleased with it, I'm happy to contribute the way I have," Jackson said. "There are a lot of great tools around me that allow me to be successful. For me, I just have to go out there and continue to work hard, have fun, enjoy it, and we'll see how the season ends. But right now, it's always about the wins first."
While many of Jackson's plays came against other players, he got the best of the Eagles' Nnamdi Asomugha, the former Raiders cornerback.
"I really do enjoy playing against the elite corners in this league; they bring out the best in you," Jackson said. "They're tough guys, they win their battles, you win your battles, and that's the fun part of playing this game."
With three games remaining, Jackson is taking aim at the Bucs' single-season receiving yardage record held by Mark Carrier, who had 1,422 yards in 1989.
"I think this year, as you watch him play, he's become more of a polished route runner in his double moves and his inside cut routes," Saints interim coach Joe Vitt said.
"He's a guy that bodies defenders as well as anybody in the league. He knows how to play the game, and I think he's really got a good rapport with the quarterback. He's the first look Josh (Freeman) is getting now, and I've got great respect for his body of work, I really do."