It was one pick for Buccaneer free safety Tanard Jackson -- one of many in a short but prolific NFL career. There was the pick-six off Aaron Rodgers in 2009 that gave the Bucs their first win under coach Raheem Morris and ended an 11-game losing streak. Then there was the first of his career back in 2007, one of the only bright spots in a disappointing 33-14 loss to the Colts.
But the one he snagged Sunday against the Saints probably meant the most, given the circumstances. This one meant, at least for the moment, that the personal turmoil he endured in the past year was worth it. After everything, he could hear his name called again over the loud speakers at Raymond James Stadium.
Fifty-six weeks went by for Tanard Jackson before he was allowed to set foot anywhere near an NFL stadium or practice facility after he violated the league's substance abuse policy for the second time.
The NFL reinstated Jackson, a 2007 fourth-round draft pick out of Syracuse, last week, and he immediately began practicing with the team. By the end of the week, he had the coaching staff convinced he could start.
"He's an unbelievable talent," Bucs defensive backs coach Jimmy Lake said. "When he first came back, we started going through our defense, he was finishing my sentences."
Jackson capped them capped them off with an exclamation point against the Saints.
On the Saints' second possession of the second quarter, with the Bucs leading by six, Jackson intercepted Drew Brees' pass intended for Marques Colston at the New Orleans 41.
Lake was so excited he actually injured himself doing a celebratory chest bump with Jackson after the play. Lake's diagnosis, a ruptured patellar tendon, relegated him to a brace and crutches after the game, but it did nothing to damper his excitement.
"He's an instinctive football player and he's a playmaker," Lake said. "He tackled really well. And then he came up and hit those running backs, was hitting receivers, and then had a big time interception for us."
Lake and Morris first coached Jackson at the Senior Bowl, then converted him from cornerback to safety when he joined the Bucs.
"That's why we put him out there," Morris said. "You know Tanard is different, he’s been different since he's been here, we've known that."
Three plays after Jackson's interception, Preston Parker caught a 19-yard touchdown pass that extended Tampa Bay's lead to 13. The Bucs, who never trailed, went on to defeat the Saints at home, 26-20, for the first time since 2008.
"It meant a lot -- anything I can do to give our team a better chance to win," Jackson said. "That's my goal. I was able to get an interception [to] setup a touchdown. That's what it's all about."
But Sunday was about so much more than just a play on the field. It was a chance to renew himself in the game he loves. The Buccaneers front office could have deemed him too much of a burden and dropped him. Instead, they supported him through his journey.
"It means a lot, for them to stand by me through this, through the ups and downs that I've gone through,” Jackson said quietly outside his locker, his head down, occasionally making eye contact.
Only he knows the depth of his struggles, but even though he earned it, he wasn't smiling immediately after the game. Jackson is soft spoken and has never been one to covet attention. But his teammates put him in the spotlight Sunday by selecting him to carry the team flag onto the field, a gesture that moved him.
"He's a guy in our locker room that everybody loves," quarterback Josh Freeman said. "He's a leader on our team and a leader on our defense, and a damn good player. Having him back is tremendous."
Lake said: "I got goosebumps when I saw him announced last coming out with the flag. Just that presence with him on the back-end -- I think everybody knew on offense, defense, that he was probably going to make a play, and he made a play. That's the type of importance he'll have the rest of the year."
For Jackson, his pick on Sunday perhaps forges a new direction in the road, the opportunity to grow again with his team, one full of fresh faces and potential.
"It's very gratifying," Jackson said. "It shows how much it means to me to be around these guys, to play with those D-linemen who I haven't played with -- it's just a great feeling. Words can't even express how I feel right now about that."
-- Follow Jenna Laine On Twitter @JennaLaineBucs.
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