FOXBORO, Mass. — J.C. Jackson made one of the plays of the game Sunday afternoon in Chicago, ripping a Mitchell Trubisky pass away from Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy for an interception.
That highlight-reel pick made his earlier miscues easier to overlook, but it didn’t erase them.
Before his takeaway, Jackson looked like a defensive liability for the New England Patriots. The undrafted rookie cornerback was penalized once for defensive pass interference and twice for illegal hands to the face, with one of those flags negating a third-down pass breakup in the end zone.
Despite appearing in just four of seven games and playing a total of 90 defensive snaps (60 on defense, 30 on special teams), Jackson has committed a team-high six penalties this season. No other Patriots player has more than four.
Speaking at his locker after Thursday’s practice, Jackson admitted he’s struggled to rein in his physicality, which he considers a core element of his game.
“It’s kind of hard, because I’m a physical corner,” said Jackson, who also is tied for the team lead with two interceptions in that limited playing time. “I’ve got to press. I try to not — I don’t know about that one. It was hard. But the coaches said to keep playing physical. I like my physicality, so I’ve just got to keep playing my game and just get my hands down a little bit. I’m not trying to hit the receiver in the face.”
He added: “It’s just a technique thing. It can be fixed.”
Jackson is one of three rookies — along with second-round draft pick Duke Dawson, who currently is on injured reserve, and seventh-round pick Keion Crossen, who has played sparingly — in a Patriots cornerback group that is stocked with veterans. Against the Bears, he rotated with Jason McCourty, who is in his 10th NFL season, and played alongside Stephon Gilmore (seventh), Eric Rowe (fourth) and Jonathan Jones (third).
The Patriots’ safeties are even more experienced, with Devin McCourty, Patrick Chung and Duron Harmon all having played at least six years in the league.
“I’m around a bunch of vets — guys who have been in the league for a while,” Jackson said. “I’m a rookie, so I feed off a lot of their knowledge. They know a lot. … (After the penalties) they were like, ‘Hey, keep your head up. Keep playing aggressive, man. Move on from that play. Forget about it. Move on to the next play.’ So that’s what I did.”
Jackson’s stock seems to be rising in the eyes of Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and de facto defensive coordinator Brian Flores. After totaling 29 defensive snaps in first three appearances — and sitting out New England’s Week 6 win over the Kansas City Chiefs as a healthy scratch — the Maryland product played 31 snaps against Chicago.
“I’m just coming in, going to work, having a good practice,” Jackson said. “I’m just preparing myself. Each and every day, I’m trying to grow. I’m learning the system, and (because of) that, the coaches and players are starting to trust me, so they started to put me out on the field.”
In addition to his interception, Jackson also threw a key block on Cordarrelle Patterson’s 95-yard kick-return touchdown. Patterson thanked the young corner by slowing down to high-five him as he crossed the goal line — a moment that since been commemorated on a T-shirt that hung in Jackson’s locker Thursday.
Thumbnail photo via Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY Sports Images