TAMPA — It was only minutes after the Bucs had demolished the Bears 29-7 Sunday when quarterback Jameis Winston tried one final time to connect with receiver DeSean Jackson.
"You never want to leave anything out there on the field, and I told DeSean, 'We left a lot out there. I missed you a couple times, and we've got to connect on those,' " Winston said of his locker room conversation with Jackson.
In his Tampa Bay debut, Jackson was targeted seven times and caught three passes for 39 yards, including a 21-yarder. But Winston was focused on the opportunities they missed.
Jackson got behind the Bears defense three times, three shots downfield that the Bucs dreamed about taking when they signed Jackson to a three-year, $30.5 million contract in March. They represented 18 potential points left off the scoreboard.
Perhaps the best look came on the opening drive about four minutes into the game. Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller was playing about 10 yards off Jackson but had no deep-safety help on his side of the field. Fuller had tight coverage as he and Jackson went up for the ball. Jackson caught it, but the pass carried him a little to his left, and he was unable to get his feet inbounds.
"Could've maybe done a better job of getting vertical," offensive coordinator/receivers coach Todd Monken said. "I like it. We took a shot at it. It's a combination (of things), but the defender was off, so it didn't turn out to be as advantageous as we would've liked. We've got to do a better job, but I really thought (Jackson) did a great job of holding his line. Just in terms of how far he was off, it didn't give us a chance to get over the top."
The next chance to hit Jackson deep came in the second quarter with the Bucs facing second and 6 at the Chicago 32. Jackson ran a deep post and beat Fuller. Safety Quintin Demps was late getting over the top of Jackson. But Winston's pass was too long.
"Jameis let it go early, and there was a safety to kind of match (Jackson), so we had to maneuver around him, so we were just a hair off," Monken said.
Finally, with about 11 minutes left in the third quarter, Jackson lined up in the slot to Winston's left and beat nickel cornerback Bryce Callahan. Again the Bears safeties were slow to respond. But Winston had to avoid one hit before getting drilled by defensive end Leonard Floyd as he released the ball.
Jackson was looking for the ball over his right shoulder. But he had to adjust and look over his left shoulder, and by the time he did that, the ball fell about 2 yards away from his feet.
"We had another one where we were going across the field where Jameis was probably getting a little bit of pressure and could've kept it a little higher," Monken said. "There's always more than one reason (a play fails). But the bottom line is we've got to find a way to hit it. We've got to protect better, run the route better and throw it better."
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Though Jackson's numbers against the Bears seem pedestrian, his impact was undeniable. After the Bucs recovered a fumbled punt, they needed only one play for Winston to find Mike Evans for a 13-yard touchdown on a fade route.
On that play, Jackson went in motion and lined up to the left while Evans remained on the right. A year ago, it was unusual for Evans not to have a safety over the top to double-team him in the red zone.
Winston said that even when he's not catching the ball, Jackson's impact on the game can be felt.
"That's what's so amazing about him," Winston said. "I think everyone feels his presence when he's out there, and it's so fun to watch him just run by guys. That's another thing that just adds another element to our offense. Guys are backing up, and we're able to complete some stuff underneath.
"When we start connecting, it's going to be great. I can't wait."