Breakout game shows Jackson's back

SEATTLE -- Seahawks receiver Darrell Jackson was the offensive star of Saturday's NFC divisional playoff game with nine catches for 143 yards and a touchdown, but no one was patting him on the back. In fact, after the game, no one could find him while the Seahawks celebrated their 20-10 victory over the Redskins.

Jackson, you see, suffered back spasms on, of all plays, a third-down running play near the end of the first quarter. Officials flagged Jackson for an illegal block below the waist. Trainers had to treat him with heat on the sideline, because his back was ailing. At the time, he had two catch for 41 yards in a scoreless first quarter.

"It was the big muscles, and it kind of hurt," Jackson said. "Everybody in the playoffs is playing with pain, and for some of these things, you have to suck it up. In football, you go through injuries, and it's one of those things that just hurt."

Jackson required more than 90 minutes of treatment after the game. He returned to a Seahawks locker room empty of teammates but loaded with reporters. His 143-yard day made him a star. After missing 10 games with a knee injury, Jackson wasn't going to let back spasms take him out of the playoffs.

For the Seahawks, his return is important. All around the locker room, Seattle players were happy to say about Jackson, "He's back."

"Having Darrell back is big," Seahawks quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. "He adds a little something to our offense. He's very quick. He's very explosive. He's been the most productive receiver ever since I've been here, and even before that. To have him as another weapon on our offense is big."

Jackson had 87 catches for 1,199 yards last season. He has been the Seahawks' No. 1 receiver for most of his six seasons. Though he isn't the fastest, he has explosion and quickness. He is elusive and finds ways to get open.

Without him, the Seahawks have faced some tough defensive challenges. Opponents know Seattle doesn't have much explosion from veterans Joe Jurevicius and Bobby Engram, so cornerbacks have squatted on routes and tried more man-coverage against the Seahawks during Jackson's absence.

Jackson had knee surgery Oct. 12 and took seemingly forever to return. He had swelling in the knee once he did come back, and he ended up missing more time at the end of the season. Jackson admits he's playing at about 80 or 90 percent because of the knee, although the doctors tell him he will be at 100 percent next season.

"I have no time to worry about that right now," Jackson said. "We have a couple of games to get to and try to get to the Super Bowl and play in the NFC championship game here in Seattle next week."

Not knowing how long Jackson would last, Seahawks coach Mike Holmgren dialed him up early for a long play, and Hasselbeck hit him with a 37-yard completion four plays into the game. Jackson gives the Seahawks the ability to open up the offense.

"With Darrell back, we got all of our weapons; we are locked and loaded," fullback Mack Strong said. "We are ready for whoever comes in here next Sunday."

Jackson made catch after catch, despite the pain. After one catch late in the game, he took a hard hit from Redskins safety Sean Taylor, who tried to drive through Jackson's body along the sideline. After the hit, Jackson bounced up, and it was Taylor who was down, shaken up from the impact.

"It was a good hit," Jackson said. "He covers ground fast, and he's a fast, physical hitter. All I had to do was to concentrate and make sure I held on to the ball and not drop it, so that nobody would talk about it. I told him that I weigh 200 pounds. I'm not 180."

Jackson was making a slight reference to media criticism about his dropped passes. Over the past three years, Jackson and former Seahawks teammate Koren Robinson led the league in dropped passes. This year, he made an effort to catch the ball better, and the Seahawks as a team have cut their dropped passes almost in half.

With Jackson back, the Seahawks are a much more dangerous offense. They have more ability to make big plays, and Saturday's game film should cause their next opponent to concentrate more coverage on Jackson. The Redskins tried to double Engram, and that left Jackson in single coverage.

"Everyone knows what Jackson can do when he's healthy," Engram said. "He's done it his whole career. He doesn't get the recognition he deserves. He had a huge game today. The Redskins try to do so many things defensively, and he took advantage of it."

Said Jurevicius, "The guy makes plays. He can get behind defenses, and he's a playmaker. I think every team needs a playmaker, and he's a pretty good one for us. With Jackson and D.J. Hackett and Peter Warrick, I think we are a pretty special group."

Jackson doesn't have blazing speed, but he does get behind defenses. He burned the Redskins for a 29-yard touchdown catch against a three-deep zone that is designed to prevent anyone from getting deep. Hasselbeck made the perfect throw, but Jackson positioned himself for the perfect catch.

"I hit him on a very similar route against Kansas City three years ago," Hasselbeck said. "He saw me and said, 'Hey, good throw, it's just like Kansas City.' I mean, that was three years ago. So that experience, and the reps that we've had together, it's hard to replace that."

The knee isn't 100 percent. The back will need treatment all week. But Jackson will play. Like his teammates said, he's back.

John Clayton is a senior NFL writer for ESPN.com.