CHARLOTTE – Donte Jackson is always one to speak his mind. So after Carolina's 42-28 victory over Tampa Bay, he stopped by fellow cornerback James Bradberry's locker and yelled out five words: "Best duo in the league."
The national audience still probably doesn't who they are, but Sunday's performance backed up that claim.
Buccaneers No. 1 wideout Mike Evans, who entered the game fifth in the entire league in receiving, was held by Bradberry to one catch for 16 yards on 10 targets.
DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay's veteran vertical threat who entered the game first in the NFL in yards per catch (22.8), was held by Carolina's outspoken second-round rookie to two catches for 32 yards.
The numbers speak for themselves. But that's not going to stop Donte from speaking up.
"I think 26 and 24 at the corner position are putting great football on film, so we're making a case to be the best duo in the league," Jackson said. "We are going to keep holding ourselves to that standard."
We'll get back to Jackson in a minute, but the star of the secondary on Sunday was undoubtedly Bradberry. He still doesn't have a pick, but his performance against Evans was about as good as it gets.
"James played his ass off," Jackson said. "I sit next to him in meetings, and all week he was locked in. It showed up on the field."
The first play of the game was a deep toss to Evans that Bradberry broke up. On third-and-7 two plays later it was Bradberry in coverage as quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick failed to connect with Evans.
That was the beginning of a long day for No. 13 in white.
"I wanted to start strong. That was my mindset coming into this game," Bradberry said. "I've played him in the past so I know what kind of player he is. I watched the film and understood the bucket of routes he likes to run. I keyed in when I saw the formations.
"I was consistent throughout the game."
Short, intermediate, long – it didn't matter. Bradberry was all over Evans every time.
"I think I got into his head with my play," said Bradberry, who exchanged jerseys with Evans after the game. "But we're cool. We talked after the game. We knew it was going to be a physical fight, and I was prepared for it."
Jackson, meanwhile, had prepared all week for Tampa Bay's Jackson, a player he emulated in high school. It wasn't a flawless outing, as Rivera mentioned Jackson "blew a coverage," but he made sure DeSean didn't beat him over the top.
And when Fitzpatrick looked for DeSean deep down the left sideline late in the fourth quarter, the rookie corner was ready for it.
"I was preparing for them to take a shot," Jackson said. "It came a little later than I expected, but I was able to make the play. Got my fourth pick of the season."
Jackson already has as many interceptions as he did throughout his three-year career at LSU. When Week 9 began, only one player in the league – Washington safety D.J. Swearinger – had four interceptions.
"Three of my four picks are because we had hands in the quarterback's face," Jackson admitted. "I'm so grateful for those guys up front."
That's true. But this is also true: Something special is brewing in the secondary with Jackson and Bradberry.
And Carolina is counting on that to continue.
"They are doing what we know they are capable of doing," safety Eric Reid said of Bradberry and Jackson. "And if we are going to go where we're trying to go, they need to keep playing that way."