DESEAN JACKSON was rocking the authentic Kobe jersey, the backward Lakers cap, and the vintage yellow Converse with the purple laces yesterday, as he prepared to exit the NovaCare locker room. The Eagles' rookie wideout, who doesn't mind attracting a little attention, was celebrating his favorite NBA team's Christmas Day victory over the previously unstoppable Celtics.
It's pretty clear, from remarks made by offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg on Thursday and Andy Reid yesterday, that the Eagles thought Jackson attracted the wrong kind of attention last week. Jackson waved his arms in frustration when he was open behind the Washington secondary and Donovan McNabb didn't throw to him, then he dropped the would-be tying touchdown with 57 seconds left in the devastating 10-3 loss that probably doomed the Birds' playoff chances. They need a loss by Minnesota or Chicago tomorrow, along with a loss by Tampa, and then they need to defeat the visiting Cowboys.
It has been clear since training camp that in their second-round draft choice from Cal, the Eagles finally have a difference-making wideout, at least a difference-maker in training, and it also has been clear that they have been very concerned about squashing any incipient divahood. That's the affliction sometimes known as T.O.sis, or Plaxicodity.
Jackson acknowledged yesterday that he thinks he has been held to a higher standard than most rookies - but he leavened those remarks by saying he was OK with the coaches expecting too much. That's the kind of player he wants to be, he said, the kind who carries the load.
"Overall, that is the case," Jackson said, when asked whether he had been asked to do too much. "But with being myself, it's not [more than] I'm able to do. I can just go out there and do what I can do. If they ask me to do something, and I feel it's too much, I'm not the person to say, 'No, I can't do this,' or, 'This might be too much.' Me and [wide receivers] coach [David] Culley, we talked about it. He kind of said, 'We have been doing too [many] things with you, but we don't have a choice, you're our playmaker.' That's the role that I had to choose. I've just got to go out there and do what I do . . . make plays and help this team win football games."
Jackson said he "wanted everything they threw my way - the success, to help the team, to show everybody I'm not too small, things like that. It definitely worked both ways."
Reid acknowledged he had talked with his leading receiver (60 catches, 866 yards) about last Sunday. Reid said he wasn't cutting Jackson any slack for being a rookie, although certainly no one foresaw Jackson as the Eagles' leading receiver going into the season. He is 3 yards shy of tight end Keith Jackson's franchise rookie receiving record. He won't catch Jackson's record of 81 catches, but his 60 are the most ever by an Eagles rookie wideout.
"This past game . . . He needs to do better, whether you're a rookie or not a rookie," Reid said. "You need to do better. When you have an opportunity to make a play, you make a play. There are no excuses for it. He won't give you any excuses. He has always been a big-time player in big-time situations. He will do that here. It didn't work out for him on Sunday. You have to learn from it and move on and do better this week."
The day before, Mornhinweg said Jackson that was "banged up" twice during the game - the Eagles announced a rib injury, they've never said what the other injury was - and that he needed to do a better job of maintaining focus and "finishing."
Jackson, who isn't listed on the injury report this week, said yesterday that getting hurt wasn't the reason he dropped the TD pass.
Asked what he'd learned from the experience, Jackson said: "One play at a time. If I'm open or something like that, I can't really get too excited. I've just got to stay calm and wait for the one play to come. You never know when that one play will come. That was the biggest thing last week. I kind of felt I was open a couple of times, they didn't get me the ball, then at a crucial time, it kind of came to me and my mind was kind of messed up. So it was just basically the mind-set: I've got to just know how important one play is. One play can be a big difference.
"I'm the type of person, I kind of held that on myself. I didn't blame it on anybody else, or didn't say that what they've been having me do all year's been too much for me. People don't really realize, what I've done this year has definitely been a big step for me. But you know, it's just one step and we're going to just keep moving forward."
Auld Lang Syne
Given that the Eagles are unlikely to be alive for the playoffs by the time the ball is kicked off Sunday, fans probably should keep in mind that this could be the final appearance in green for some of the franchise's all-time stalwarts, specifically, 34-year-old left offensive tackle Tra Thomas, 35-year-old right offensive tackle Jon Runyan, and 35-year-old free safety Brian Dawkins. None has a contract for next season. It isn't definite that any of them won't be back, but it's unlikely all three will be, especially if the Eagles don't make the playoffs.
Thomas said yesterday he's assuming this, his 166th Eagles appearance, will be his last.
"I don't have a contract for next year, so that's it," he said. "It's been a decent year. I think it's been one of my better years, especially with it being my 11th season. It was disappointing not making it to the Pro Bowl, but it is what it is. I just keep plugging along."
The Eagles have allowed only 22 sacks this season. If they don't give up any tomorrow (a tall order, against DeMarcus Ware and Co.), they'll tie the franchise record for fewest sacks allowed, set in 1981.
Middle linebacker Stewart Bradley (rib, groin) is listed as "questionable" for tomorrow, but Bradley said he expects to play. Tight end L.J. Smith is doubtful with a shoulder injury in what might very well be his final game as an Eagle. Wide receiver Hank Baskett (knee) is questionable, as is free safety Brian Dawkins, who missed the last few days of preparation with the flu. You know Dawk is playing, though, in what could be the final Eagles game of his memorable career . . .
Asked yesterday about Donovan McNabb's statement that he feels he has "played great," although he feels the offense could have been more consistent this season, Andy Reid said: "He has done very well. I think, statistically, when you look at it, he has done a nice job. The only stat I really care about, however, is that the team plays well. That's the most important thing right now. I think when and if you take that statement he made out of context - [if] you really know what Donovan is all about, he's about the football team. If you finish reading the whole quote, I think he finishes up where I don't see that as a negative statement." *
For more Eagles coverage and opinion, read the Daily News' Eagles blog, Eagletarian, at www.eagletarian.com.