The soap opera relationship between DeSean Jackson and the Eagles took another turn Sunday when the mercurial wide receiver was left inactive against the Cardinals for missing a special teams meeting Saturday morning.
Although Jackson showed up for the team walk-through Saturday, missing the meeting was enough for coach Andy Reid to take one of the Eagles' most dynamic players off the field - and display for the first time since training camp the rift between the team and the wide receiver.
"I thought it was the right thing to do," Reid said. "He needs to step back and make sure that it doesn't happen again."
He added, "I'm not happy about it."
Jackson also missed at least part of another meeting last week. He was not at the game Sunday, but a spokesman for the receiver said he overslept Saturday and that it was "an honest mistake."
"He wants to be an Eagle. He's happy being an Eagle. He loves what he's doing in the community, but he realizes there are consequences for his actions, and he's not above the team," said spokesman Bobby McRae. "When he gets back, he's going to be motivated, and he's going to work hard to contribute."
It's unclear how Jackson's absence will affect contract talks with the team. Jackson has been dogged by questions about his maturity, and this incident could reignite that issue.
Jackson has not been the same explosive player this season as in years past, but so far he has handled his unsettled contract situation quietly, even as he has grown frustrated by the lack of progress. He has tried to bolster his image with a foundation to fight pancreatic cancer, an essay contest, shopping spree for a needy family and increased work to combat bullying. He may have wasted some of that good will Saturday.
On the other hand, the awful performance by the Eagles offense might be the best argument yet for Jackson's value to the team. Their 289 total yards was their lowest output of the year.
"He plays a big role for this offense," said running back LeSean McCoy, a close friend of Jackson's. "Any player that says we didn't miss him is not being honest."
"Coach has always been a no-nonsense guy since I've been here," said quarterback Mike Vick. "If it was anybody else aside from DeSean, it would have been the same punishment."
He added that it was "just an accountability statement, so hopefully he'll learn from it."
The dustup seems like a potential breaking point between the Eagles and Jackson, who is making $600,000 this year despite being a two-time Pro Bowler. But McRae and people within the Eagles downplayed that notion.
One team source said Reid was simply sending a message to his locker room.
"He knows that he's wrong for it, and he's sorry," McCoy said.
Without Jackson, Steve Smith saw an increased role. But the well-paid backup had five catches for just 47 yards. Jeremy Maclin, Jason Avant, and Riley Cooper combined for three receptions for 8 yards.
The Eagles have done well without Jackson in the past, but Avant noted that in those situations they were able to game plan in advance for his absence.
"Teams consist of 53 guys," said defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins. "We didn't have 53 guys today."
Steve Smith was the Eagles' only wide receiver who came close to making up for the absence of DeSean Jackson. Here is how they fared:
Targets Rec. Yards
Jeremy Maclin 5 2 6
Jason Avant 1 1 2
Steve Smith 10 5 47
Riley Cooper 2 0 0