The end of the 2011 season finds Tanard Jackson feeling both appreciative and dejected.
Tampa Bay's fourth-year safety is grateful the Bucs afforded him the opportunity to resume his NFL career in Week 6, when Jackson was reinstated by the league after a one-year suspension for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy.
Inserted into the starting lineup immediately, Jackson made his season debut against New Orleans and promptly picked off a Drew Brees pass in a 26-20 victory that improved the Bucs to 4-2. The next week, facing the Bears in London on Oct. 23, Jackson registered another interception before a hamstring injury forced him to the sidelines.
The Bucs then announced they had signed Jackson to a one-year extension, keeping him in Tampa through the 2012 season.
Despite rejoining teammates and resurrecting his career, Jackson has been humbled by a nine-game losing streak heading into Sunday's season finale at Atlanta.
"I've been through some tough seasons and this one is right up there,'' said Jackson, a starter since the Bucs selected him out of Syracuse as a fourth-round pick in the 2007 draft. "This offseason is going to be big for me – it's going to be dedicated to playing the way I can play.''
Jackson, 26, re-injured his hamstring in November and was inactive at Green Bay. He takes his share of the responsibility for a defense that has yielded an average of 34 points during the losing streak.
"I definitely want to re-establish myself as a player,'' said Jackson. "When a team is struggling, guys try to do other people's jobs … that doesn't work in this business.''
After last week's 48-16 loss at Carolina, Bucs coach Raheem Morris said Jackson was caught out of position when rookie quarterback Cam Newton completed a 91-yard touchdown pass to Brandon LaFell that matched the longest play from scrimmage against Tampa Bay in franchise history.
"I'm as guilty as the other guys,'' said Jackson. "It's human, it happens, but it doesn't work. You've got to trust the guy next to you.''
Jeremy Trueblood (concussion) has been declared out against the Falcons and James Lee, inactive for all but two games this year, is slated to start at RT. Lee, who started nine games in 2010 as Trueblood was hobbled by a sprained knee, sounded excited about a chance to see extended action.
"I've been patient, waiting for my opportunity,'' Lee said. "It's here now and I'm going to take full advantage of it. As a unit, we all stick together and feed off each other. It's been a rough year, but we're going to be alright.''
Claimed off waivers from the Browns before the 2008 season, Lee could be an unrestricted free agent in 2012. Sunday marks a welcome opportunity to showcase his skills on tape.
"Definitely, and I'm excited about it,'' Lee said.
Since Mike Smith was named head coach of the Falcons in 2008, Atlanta is 32-1 when holding a lead after three quarters and 27-2 when winning the turnover battle. …Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones of Atlanta each topped 100 receiving yards in Tampa Bay's 16-13 triumph at Raymond James Stadium in Week 3. …In their three seasons under Morris, the Bucs are 4-22 with a negative time of possession ratio.