The New England Patriots’ Week 8 matchup with the Buffalo Bills was a prove-it game for cornerback JC Jackson.
With Stephon Gilmore out with a knee injury and rumored to be on the trade block with his house for sale, Jackson rose up the depth chart to cover Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs in New England’s 24-21 loss.
Jackson let up five catches on eight targets for 84 yards with an interception in a premier matchup against Diggs, who also caught an 8-yard pass against zone coverage.
Diggs came into the game with 48 catches for 603 yards with three touchdowns in seven games. He already has three 100-yard games on the season.
“I felt pretty good coming in and preparing all week,” Jackson told reporters after the game. “Just going against a good receiver. I’m a playmaker just like he’s a playmaker.”
Jackson believes his performance cemented himself as a potential No. 1 cornerback in the NFL.
“I mean, of course,” Jackson said. “Why not?”
Jackson’s teammates had the utmost confidence in the third-year Patriot heading into Sunday’s game despite the difficult matchup shadowing one of the NFL’s best wideouts.
“Oh, I’ve said it plenty of times: We have as much confidence in JC as anybody on this team,” Patriots safety and defensive captain Devin McCourty said after the game. “He leads the team in interceptions. The guy’s a ball magnet every time he’s out there. He just continues to get better as a young player. And it’s just like all of us. We’ve all got to be more consistent out there. But you talk about confidence, there’s not a player in our secondary that I have more confidence in when we go out there.
“I thought the group of corners did a great job without our guy today without Gilly. Everyone stepped up, covered their butts off. We just got to continue to build on that and continue to get better. When you lose a guy, it’s an opportunity for us to get better. Myles (Bryant) getting a chance to be out here, I thought was great. And just have to continue to get better in the secondary.”
Jackson registered his fourth interception of the season Sunday. He’s let up just one touchdown in 2020 and is allowing a 62.7 passer rating through seven games.
The NFL trade deadline is Nov. 3, and the Patriots do have great cornerback depth behind Gilmore in Jackson, Jason McCourty, Jonathan Jones, Joejuan Williams, Justin Bethel and Bryant. While the Patriots’ defense would certainly be weakened if Gilmore were to be moved, Jackson’s performance against Diggs at least showed the team has a capable fill-in. Bills quarterback Josh Allen completed 11-of-18 passes for 154 yards with no touchdowns and one interception in the game.
Even if Gilmore makes it through the 2020 NFL trade deadline, the Patriots will have to do something about his contract since his 2021 salary is just $7 million. That could include a trade, extension or pay raise. Jackson, meanwhile, will be a restricted free agent next offseason, which should give the Patriots the opportunity to keep him short-term for one season or on a long-term deal. If the Patriots lose Jackson this offseason, they’ll likely receive a first-round pick in return.
“JC competed well like he always does,” head coach Bill Belichick told reporters postgame. “I thought everybody in the secondary — that’s a pretty good receiving group, good quarterback. They hit some passes, but overall I’d say it was pretty competitive.”
The Patriots allowed 190 yards on 38 carries with three touchdowns in the loss.