(Eds: With AP Photos.)By FRED GOODALLAP Sports Writer
During a season in which little has gone right for Tampa Bay’s sputtering offense, receiver Vincent Jackson has quietly put together another Pro Bowl-caliber season for the Buccaneers.
The ninth-year pro’s accomplishments for an injury-riddled unit that ranked 29th in the NFL in scoring and last in passing and total offense have been overshadowed by a 4-11 record that not only will keep the Bucs out of the playoffs for the sixth straight year but could also prompt the team’s third coaching change since 2007.
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Heading into Sunday’s season finale at New Orleans, the three-time Pro Bowl selection has a career-best 74 receptions for 1,189 yards and seven touchdowns. It’s his third straight 1,000-yard season, second with Tampa Bay.
Jackson’s done it despite the Bucs’ messy split with quarterback Josh Freeman, who lost his job to rookie Mike Glennon less than a month into this season.
And despite the team not having another proven offensive playmaker on the field for much of the year.
”I’ve never been a stats guy,” said Jackson, who played the first seven years of his career with the San Diego Chargers. ”I’ve been fortunate enough to have solid numbers, but being a starting receiver in this league you’re expected at some point to produce at a certain level.
”I just really believe in this system. … I trust our coaches are going to put me in position to be successful,” he added. ”Each and every year, I come into training camp with a beginner’s mentality (believing) I can learn more, I can get better, I can improve on my craft, and I continue to work on that each and every week.”
The Bucs signed Jackson in free agency before the 2012 season, giving him a five-year, $55.55 million deal that was written in all 5’s in honor of Freeman, who wore jersey No. 5.
And while Freeman prospered in his only full season of throwing to Jackson, becoming Tampa Bay’s first 4,000-yard passer, the young quarterback’s inconsistency eventually cost him the starting job.
With Glennon at quarterback, the Bucs have continued to struggle offensively, sinking to last in the league statistically while posting new season lows for total yardage in four of the past five games.
While Gerald McCoy, Lavonte David and Darrelle Revis have had strong seasons on defense, when the NFC selections for the Pro Bowl are announced Friday, Jackson figures to be the only Tampa Bay offensive player who has much of a chance at making the squad.
Teammates say he’s deserving.
”He’s having a great year and been such a huge part of our offense,” Glennon said.
”He’s been such an emphasis from a defensive scouting standpoint that you have to give him so much more credit than maybe he’s even (received) because everyone’s keying on him so much,” Glennon added. ”And yet, even with them keying on him, he still makes a lot of big plays.”
In addition to putting together his fifth 1,000-yard season in the past six years, Jackson is averaging 16.1 yards per catch and has four 100-yard games this year all while providing much-needed leadership on and off the field for a young team that’s played hard, if not always very well.
”Despite the record, guys have to believe we’re playing for each other. You’re playing for the name on the back, obviously, and that emblem on the helmet, representing your city, representing your organization that’s given you a job and given you an opportunity,” Jackson said.
”I think we have that here, we have the right kind of leaders in this locker room and out on the field,” he added. ”They’re going to not only lead by example, but they’re going to make sure these guys are mentally focused to say: `You know what, put the record aside, whatever, every time we step on that football field, we’ve got something to prove.”’