All it took was one subtle stutter step from Breshad Perriman.
J.C. Jackson, manned up on the New York Jets wide receiver, felt his balance escaping him. His left hand hit the MetLife Stadium turf, followed by his right knee. Then his torso.
“As I fell, I was like, ‘Oh, man, I’m beat,’ ” the New England Patriots cornerback lamented. “I was like, ‘(Expletive), he got me.’ It was bad, man.”
By the time Jackson got to his feet, Joe Flacco’s rainbow of a pass already was well on its way to Perriman’s waiting mitts. It was the second touchdown catch of the game for the Jets wideout. Jackson was in coverage on both.
The score put New York ahead by 10 with seconds remaining in the third quarter, capping a miserable 45-minute stretch for New England’s injury-depleted defense.
But redemption soon came for Jackson.
First, the Patriots’ offense staged a 17-play, nine-plus-minute drive that produced a field goal. On the Jets’ very next offensive snap, Flacco — unusually excellent for much of the night — heaved a deep ball into double coverage to rookie receiver Denzel Mims.
He found Jackson instead.
New England’s offense turned that interception — Jackson’s NFL-leading fifth of the season and fourth in the last four games — into a game-tying touchdown, and Nick Folk followed with a last-second, 51-yard field goal shortly thereafter, giving the Patriots a 30-27 road victory.
“Coach made a great call, (safety) Devin (McCourty) gave me a great call and I was in a position to make the play,” Jackson said of his pivotal pick. “… It’s just about me being in a good position to make a play on the ball. I felt like I was in the right position, and I just made a play. I’ve got great hands, so I don’t really drop too many balls.”
Jackson’s interception helped the Patriots salvage a victory, but it didn’t erase the struggles he and the rest of New England’s secondary endured against the NFL’s 32nd-ranked offense.
The Patriots played a slew of young defenders with cornerback Stephon Gilmore, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and defensive tackle Lawrence Guy all sidelined, but New York’s biggest plays came against experienced corners in Jackson and Jason McCourty.
Flacco was 8-for-11 for 166 yards with three touchdowns over the first three quarters when targeting Jackson or McCourty in coverage, according to NFL Next Gen Stats.
Both players also committed pass interference penalties that directly led to scores.
Jackson, playing the No. 1 cornerback role for the second consecutive game while Gilmore recovers from a knee injury, blamed the first touchdown he allowed on a communication breakdown. Flacco hit a streaking Perriman for a 50-yard bomb.
“I didn’t get the communication, and it was a good play call by the offensive coordinator,” Jackson said. “(Perriman) hit me with a double move, and I guess I was too low. I was supposed to be high shoulder on him, and I wasn’t, so he beat me.”
McCourty let up Flacco’s 20-yard tight-window touchdown to Jamison Crowder, which Next Gen Stats graded as the most improbable completion of this NFL season and the most improbable touchdown since 2017.
Flacco, starting in place of injured starter Sam Darnold, posted the fifth-highest passer rating of his career (128.7), completing 18 of 25 passes for 262 yards and three touchdowns with one pick. Bill Belichick was critical of the Patriots’ defensive performance.
“Defensively, we didn’t play well in the passing game,” the Patriots coach said. “Just wasn’t one of our better performances. Fortunately, in the fourth quarter, we had the interception, had a stop, got the ball back. So, kind of salvaged it a little bit. But we gave up too many yards and too many points in the passing game.”
Thanks to a series of sustained drives by the Patriots’ offense, the Jets ran just four offensive plays in the fourth quarter. One resulted in Jackson’s interception; the other three comprised a speedy three-and-out that preceded Folk’s game-winner.
“I had some ups and downs, man, but it’s always about how you finish the game,” Jackson said. “I mean, they’re going to make some plays. It’s just all about how you finish. It’s all about finishing, and we finished the right way tonight.”