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It was an emotional victory for the Buccaneers on Sunday. They bounced back from an embarrassing blowout loss to San Francisco and defeated the Saints to move to the top of the NFC South, but the game was particularly meaningful for Bucs FS Tanard Jackson.
Jackson served a suspension that lasted more than a year for violating the league's substance-abuse policy, and Sunday was his first game since Week Two of last season. He was reinstated by the NFL Oct. 11, activated by the Bucs three days later and started at free safety vs. New Orleans.
The Bucs chose him to carry the team flag during player introductions, and it didn't take long before he made an impact once the game started.
Jackson made the first of three Bucs interceptions Sunday, picking off Drew Brees in the second quarter and returning the pick 16 yards to give the Bucs' offense the ball at New Orleans' 25-yard line. Josh Freeman threw a touchdown pass to WR Preston Parker three plays later, and Tampa Bay took a 20-7 lead.
Peter Schaffer, Jackson's agent, and Jackson were overjoyed during their conversaton after game.
"Pure, unadulterated jubilation," is how Schaffer described his client's emotions Sunday.
"After he worked for the last 14 months to make his life better and to become a better person, it was fun to watch him play football and do what he does best," Schaffer told PFW. "It was as good as you could have ever hoped, and more importantly, the team won.
"He was back in his happy place. The thing is, when he made his interception, to see the sheer joy on his teammates' faces, the genuine joy, it makes it all worthwhile."
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The Bucs are overjoyed, too. They badly need a playmaker at safety, and Jackson — who had five interceptions, two forced fumbles and scored two touchdowns in only 12 games during his last full season, 2009 — has the ability to fill that void for the team.
Prior to Jackson's interception Sunday, no Bucs safety had made a pick this season. Tampa Bay had a total of three interceptions in its previous nine games before Jackson started things off Sunday and made the first pick. Teammates E.J. Biggers and Quincy Black made interceptions of their own later as the Bucs held off the Saints.
Jackson, who made five tackles Sunday, reported to the team last week in great shape and didn't appear to have much trouble getting up to game speed. He had to leave the game briefly in the fourth quarter when he started to cramp up, but Schaffer said Jackson will be fine and thought he might have been a little tired.