NEW ORLEANS – It took just one deep pass to DeSean Jackson Sunday to know it was a new year.
Jackson's 58-yard touchdown reception served notice that the Bucs speedy receiver was not getting off to another slow start the way he did last season.
Jackson finished with five catches for 146 yards and two touchdowns, including a 36-yarder in the fourth quarter that essentially put the game out of reach in Sunday's 48-40 win over the Saints.
"He's a special player,'' quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "He's been special everywhere he's been. I think he's really grown in terms of his fit in this offense. I think on the other hand we've grown in terms of how it exactly is going to fit.
"You see that sometimes. You bring a guy in and it's not exactly plug and play and perfect. But we worked really hard in OTAs and training camp doing the right things and getting on the same page. He's been great at practice and he's been great out there in the huddle.''
Jackson caught another pass for 35 yards in the fourth quarter but suffered a concussion on the play. More troublesome than that may be a shoulder injury he suffered on the first touchdown. He was unavailable after the game.
Not to be outdone, receiver Mike Evans led the Bucs with seven catches for 147 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown reception.
But for Jackson, who had only 50 catches last season after signing a three-year, $33.5-million contract as a free agent, Sunday was a good sign.
"Little faster today,'' coach Dirk Koetter said of Jackson's start to 2018. "First play, he caught the ball out there in the flat and then two over the top. That's what (general manager) Jason (Licht) brought him for.''
MONKEN CALLED THE PLAYS, SCORED 48: In what has been a closely guarded secret for some reason, Koetter did give up the play-calling duties to offensive coordinator Todd Monken, who had that role in the preseason.
Monken could not have had a better debut. The 48 points tied a regular-season club record and would've broken it had placekicker Chandler Catanzaro not missed a 44-yard field goal wide right.
Koetter wouldn't elaborate when asked who called plays Sunday.
"You were at the game,'' Koetter said.
Even Fitzpatrick was a little cagey afterward.
"Did he call the plays today?'' Fitzpatrick said. "I couldn't tell. It looked like Dirk's mouth was moving.
"Yeah, Todd did a great job today. And we've kind of worked on it. Dirk did it last year, and I'm completely comfortable with him doing it. But Todd did it today and I thought he did a great job.''
BEND, BREAK, CAUSE TURNOVERS: Face it, the Bucs did not have a stellar debut on defense. They allowed the Saints to score 40 points, roll up 475 total net yards and Drew Brees to pass for 439 yards and three touchdowns.
Playing without starting cornerback Brent Grimes, who was out with a groin injury, the Bucs had to rely on several rookies such as cornerbacks Carlton Davis and M.J. Stewart.
But what the Bucs did do well was create two fumbles.
The first one even resulted in a defensive touchdown.
With the Bucs and Saints trading scores and Tampa Bay leading 24-17 in the second quarter, cornerback Vernon Hargreaves forced a fumble from running back Mike Gillislee and safety Justin Evans scooped up the loose ball and returned it 34 yards for a touchdown.
"The turnover/touchdown … I mean, we were talking over the headphones with coaches and at one point, one of the coaches said it looks like it's going to be a track meet,'' Koetter said. "And we said on the phones right then, okay, what happens in a track meet? Turnovers are what decide it, and that's probably what's going to happen.''
The Bucs also killed a Saints drive when Kwon Alexander forced a Michael Thomas fumble that was recovered by Ryan Smith.
"Defensive touchdowns are huge,'' Hargreaves said. "They'll win you a game. It's that simple.''
JONES' DEBUT MUST WAIT: The Bucs used a second-round pick on Southern Cal running back Ronald Jones, hoping he would bring explosive plays in the running and passing game. But Jones was inactive Sunday.
Peyton Barber, Jacquizz Rodgers and undrafted rookie Shaun Wilson were the running backs. Wilson also served as the Bucs' kickoff returner while Jones is not a major contributor on special teams.
Jones had a difficult preseason, gaining 22 yards on 28 carries, a 0.79 average. But he ran behind the second and third-team offensive line. His longest rushing attempt was five yards. But with all injuries in the secondary, the Bucs felt sitting Jones was the solution.
Cornerback Brent Grimes strained his groin late in the week and did not travel to New Orleans. The Bucs signed cornerback Javien Elliott from the practice squad Saturday and placed cornerback De'Vante Harris on injured reserve. Elliott was among nine defensive backs active Sunday.
INJURIES: Hargreaves left the game with a shoulder injury and was wearing a sling on his right arm. Evans left the game with an undisclosed injury but returned.