For the third consecutive game, wide receiver DeSean Jackson used his big-play ability to the Redskins' advantage, finding the end zone in another close victory.
His best attribute – one praised by coaches and teammates alike – is his ability to track the football in the air, to pinpoint its trajectory while using his speed to meet its downward spiral. For the third consecutive game, the Redskins took advantage of it.
Wide receiver DeSean Jackson, using his inherent abilities while recalling his high school baseball outfield skills, hauled in an 80-yard, over the shoulder touchdown pass in the third quarter of Sunday's 27-22 victory over the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field.
The explosive play, one which would regain the lead for the Redskins, was the main attraction for a three-reception, 102-yard afternoon for the speedster.
"You know with DeSean's speed, even though he probably only had three or four catches today, but [he had] over 100 yards again," head coach Jay Gruden said. "That big-play ability jump-starts this football team. Great throw, great adjustment to the football."
At halftime, Jackson said he spoke with coaches about the Eagles' propensity to be in quarters coverage and knew that a combination route with Jamison Crowder would get him open for a deep pass. During the second play of the Redskins' second drive in the third quarter, quarterback Kirk Cousins dialed up his suggestion.
Crowder lined up in the slot and ran an out-route, taking safety Malcolm Jenkins with him and away from the middle of the field. With just cornerback Leodis McKelvin to beat, Jackson put on his burners on a post-route. Cousins' throw sliced to the right, requiring Jackson to turn his neck back before hauling in a Willie Mays-style catch, jogging into the end zone for the remaining 25 yards.
"The safety wasn't there, and I guess he was pulled down by Jamison Crowder," Jackson said. "There's a lot of room with no guys around, and the safety was gone, so it was just me and the cornerback. I saw it was slightly thrown to the backside shoulder, so I just made an adjustment. I don't know how clean I caught it or whatever, but I caught it and it speaks for itself."
"Kirk did a great job in putting enough air under it where DeSean could adjust to it," Gruden said. "DeSean would've been a world-class center fielder; he adjusts to the ball like no other. You just put it up in the air where he can see it and find it and he'll get it."
Jackson's fourth touchdown of the season was also his 22nd career 60-plus-yard touchdown, moving past Devin Hester (21) for sole possession of second-most total touchdowns of 60 yards or more, one shy of tying Jerry Rice (23) for the most in NFL history.
The 80-yard pass play was also the longest by members of the Redskins since the duo connected for an 81-yard touchdown pass at Philadelphia in Week 3 of the 2014 season, coincidentally also against the Eagles.
Jackson said that playing centerfield at Long Beach Poly High School, where he played in some All-Star games with Melvin Upton, helped him acquire his big-play ability. His love for football ultimately outweighed the prospects of playing baseball professionally, but he occasionally gets the itch to hit the diamond.
"Early on just practicing and catching balls in centerfield, just running down deep balls and balls in the gap, diving out there and catching balls," Jackson said. "I definitely think that triggered my deep threat and how sometimes I catch the ball over my shoulder. Just really practicing that as a young kid, that'd what got me good at it… From time to time I think about going back, see how that goes. Maybe steal some bases and might go play for the Nats."
Jackson's third catch of the day was just as important, a 21-yarder on the edge of the sideline that took the Redskins down to the Eagles' 33-yard line. It was originally called a completion, but Philadelphia challenged the ruling. Replay showed Jackson managed to get both of his feet in bounds with his right toe scraping the turf just before his knee his touched down out of play.
Four plays later, Cousins found Pierre Garçon for a touchdown pass to extend the team's lead to eight points. Jackson gave credit to wide receivers coach Ike Hilliard for working on the toe-tapping at practice.
"Hilliard does a great job of toe tapping," Jackson said. "A lot of people in this league, a lot of players in this league don't really take that into consideration. It's like a second nature, you don't really think about it, You do it so much that any time you're around the white lines you just always try to toe tap and drag the back foot. I credit that to my receivers coach and all the practice we do for that."
Much of the conversation surrounding DeSean Jackson this week has been in reference to whether the Redskins should re-sign him once his contract expires at the end of the season. The prevailing argument to do so has centered largely on his speed and quick-flash ability to take the top off opposing defenses.
Just like his 67-yard catch against the Cowboys and his 59-yard grab against the Cardinals a week ago, Jackson's catch offered another convincing argument for his case this offseason while simultaneously helping the Redskins keep up in what's become a very tight race for a Wild Card playoff spot.
"I just feel like whatever team I'm playing against or the opponent, that's where I feel like I have my niche as: a deep threat, vertical, down the field, putting a lot of speed on corners and safeties," Jackson said. "I've just been fortunate to come back and make some big plays against my former team."