Jackson and Eagles are left with what ifs

Posted: December 22, 2008

LANDOVER, Md. — Note to DeSean Jackson: This is not a favorable comparison.

In the fourth quarter yesterday, Donovan McNabb simply didn't see Jackson streaking down the right sideline past his defender, wide open for what might've turned into the game-tying touchdown. McNabb threw an incompletion to Reggie Brown instead, and after Jackson pulled up his route, he waived his arms in disgust and dropped his head for all at FedEx Field to see.

He looked like the bad Terrell Owens. You know the one.

Yes, McNabb missed Jackson, but when McNabb went to him two more times down the stretch of a game the Eagles had to win to keep their playoff hopes alive, Jackson couldn't haul in the football. They both were tough catches to make, especially the one McNabb underthrew to Jackson's inside shoulder, but they were catchable throws. Elite receivers make those catches. The rookie didn't, not this time.

Ironically, when Brown made a catch inches shy of the goal line, the Eagles lost the game, 10-3, and most likely, the season, leaving everyone in the loser's locker room, in particular Jackson, contemplating the undesirable question of what if.

What if Jackson had pulled in that play-action bomb McNabb threw down the left sideline, the one that hung in the air for seemingly an eternity, with just over six minutes to play? What if, on the Eagles final drive of the game, Jackson had caught that perfect McNabb ball over his right shoulder after darting behind Washington's speedy cornerback DeAngelo Hall? What if the Eagles receivers hadn't dropped an estimated seven passes, so many of which came in the fourth quarter when, drive after drive after drive, the offense couldn't get anything going?

Would they have gone home last night with a win, instead of a season-crushing loss? It's highly possible.

Instead, the Eagles are 8-6-1 and on the doorstep of elimination. This season is all but over.

Afterward, an understandably disappointed Andy Reid, who dialed up 12 consecutive pass plays to start the fourth quarter, said he thought Jackson was going to catch the ball in the end zone.

"Yeah, I did," Reid said. "I expect, you know, he's going to make more of those than he misses."

While Jackson wasn't the only one who dropped balls - L.J. Smith had two and Brown had two - his were magnified by when they occurred in the game, and what preceded them. On the second play of the second half, McNabb threw to Jackson, who was double-covered. As Jackson was about to make the catch, Washington safety LaRon Landry, a vicious hitter, smacked Jackson, bruising his ribs.

"Obviously, I took a nice little hit," Jackson said. "I just tried to come back and fight and be out there for my team."

Jackson did, albeit not at 100 percent, but he admitted after the game that showing visible disgust over McNabb missing him in the fourth quarter affected his concentration on the two deep balls he dropped.

"I kind of got over excited when [the passes] didn't come my way," Jackson said, "and when they kind of came my way I wasn't able to put it together. . . . Both catches I felt I should've caught."

Jackson has caught a lot of passes this season, a team-high 60 for 866 yards and two touchdowns, but it's possible his season will be remembered for the two big ones he dropped.

"I don't take nothing away from it," said Jackson, who turned 22 years old earlier this month. "I'm still young. Like I said, I'm just able to make plays for this team. Today I wasn't able to get things going like I usually do or like I needed to. [I've got to] just get back to working hard, watching film, never giving up. I'll still have a long career and, hopefully, get better."

Added Brown: "DeSean's a mentally tough player, I think he's going to be all right. He has a lot of talent, a lot of talent. Sometimes it just goes like that. . . . Sometimes you make plays. Sometimes you don't. I'm sure he'll get over it, and he'll be right back up next game and he'll be ready to play."

Just maybe next time Jackson will resemble the good T.O., instead of the bad one.

Contact staff writer Ashley Fox at 215-854-5064 or afox@phillynews.com.

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