Why J.C. Jackson Thought He Was ‘About To Die’ Before Patriots-Panthers

'Man, I was sick as (expletive)'


Nov 7, 2021

One of the best performances of J.C. Jackson’s New England Patriots career to date almost didn’t happen.

Jackson, who missed two practices this week with an unspecified illness, said after Sunday’s 24-6 win over the Carolina Panthers that he initially believed he’d be unable to play.

“Man, I was sick as (expletive),” the Patriots’ top cornerback told reporters. “I was about to die. I couldn’t taste. I had a strep throat. I thought it was over. I thought I wasn’t even going to play this week, to be honest.”

Jackson said he saw New England’s team doctor, who presumably ruled out COVID-19 as the cause of his illness. By “Thursday or Friday,” his condition began to improve. He was able to practice Friday and subsequently was removed from the team’s injury report, clearing him to suit up against the Panthers.

That proved to be a major boost for New England’s defense.

Jackson intercepted two Sam Darnold passes in the win, returning one 88 yards for a touchdown. Both picks came in the red zone, snuffing out scoring opportunities on what was a miserable day for Carolina’s offense.

Head coach Bill Belichick cracked a joke about Jackson’s practice absences during his postgame news conference.

“I talked to him about that,” Belichick told reporters. “I hope that’s not a sign of things to come, to think that we don’t have to practice and then go out there and be the star of the game. But J.C. played well. I think honestly, when you miss a couple days like that, if you’ve had all the other ones that lead up to it, then those aren’t as — they’re important, but you have a better chance to overcome them because of all the practices that you’ve bankrolled.

“But it was a great job by him. He came out there Friday, and he was on things, actually had a good day on Friday. Practiced well, and then obviously had a couple big plays (Sunday).”

The pick-six gave Jackson the first touchdown of his four-year NFL career. Panthers wide receiver Robby Anderson nearly ran him down but was unable to catch him.

“He made a great play and a great run,” Belichick said. “When I saw Robby Anderson chasing him, I wasn’t sure how that was going to come out, because you know Robby can go. But J.C. beat him to the goal line, so it shows you what he can do, too.”

Asked about the touchdown, Jackson smiled and replied: “You can watch it on the Internet.”

“I can’t take you back through the whole play,” he continued. “I made a good read. It was zone coverage. I had my eyes on the quarterback and the ball. That’s what I do, man. … That’s a hell of a feeling. That was my first career touchdown in the NFL, so that was an amazing feeling. I need to get more of those.”

Still light at cornerback after trading Stephon Gilmore to the Panthers and losing Jonathan Jones to a season-ending shoulder injury, the Patriots employed a deeper rotation than usual Sunday, subbing in Joejuan Williams to keep Jackson from tiring. He appreciated the breathers.

“I felt great,” said Jackson, whose 22 career interceptions rank first in the NFL since 2018. “Especially (with) the rotation, taking me out on early downs then putting me back in in critical third-down situations. That’s how I stayed fresh, because I missed practice. But I love that rotation.”

Throws to running backs accounted for 117 of Darnold’s 172 passing yards Sunday. Jackson and Co. held top Panthers wideout D.J. Moore to three catches on seven targets for 32 yards. Darnold was 2-for-6 for 8 yards when throwing to Anderson or fellow receivers Terrace Marshall and Willie Snead.

Gilmore’s second-quarter interception against his former team was one of few Carolina highlights in the lopsided loss.

Thumbnail photo via Bob Donnan/USA TODAY Sports Images
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