FOXBORO — With a ballhawking defense on the field, New England Patriots quarterback Mac Jones said it is only a matter of a time until the defensive unit produces a turnover.
It feels that way when it comes to Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson as well.
As he has done throughout his four seasons in the NFL, Jackson continues to play an integral role in New England’s defense as a turnover machine. Jackson was at it once again Sunday, stockpiling more takeaways by recording an interception and a forced fumble in a 36-13 win over the Tennessee Titans at Gillette Stadium.
“I’m very confident because we’ve been creating turnovers every week,” said Jackson as the Patriots defense registered four turnovers in the win. “Like I said, we talk about it each and every week in practice. We’re prepared for it and when it’s time to play, we’re executing and we get it done.”
While Jackson has made it a habit of intercepting quarterbacks — he’s recorded 24 interceptions since entering the league in 2018, more than anyone else in the NFL — it was his first career forced fumble that got the ball back into the Patriots hands early in the third quarter.
D’Onta Foreman broke off a 30-yard run on just the second play from scrimmage for the Titans in the second half, but Jackson caught up to Foreman and punched the ball out of the running back’s grasp, allowing Jalen Mills to recover the football along the sideline at New England’s 37-yard line.
“See ball, get ball,” Jackson said. “He didn’t have good ball security and as a defense we talk about creating turnovers every day. … What you do in practice is going to carry over into games.”
For Patriots safety and captain Devin McCourty, Jackson’s strip of Foreman illustrated the type of hustle regularly shown out of the secondary to turn an initial negative play into a positive outcome.
“That’s huge,” McCourty said. “That’s kind of like the play we had in ‘19 when Nick Chubb ran it out and (Jonathan) Jones chasing him down and punching that ball out. It’s just hustle. If you see us practice all throughout the week, all our corners do that. They finish to the ball. They’re the last man, they’re running to the ball, they’re stripping at the ball. … That’s what it’s about. It’s everybody hustling. It’s everybody trying to get to the ball so when a play like that is made, J.C. punches it out but it doesn’t matter unless Mills is hustling and gets on the ball.”
Jackson wasn’t done, coming through with one more game-altering play before the Patriots ultimately pulled away from the Titans.
With Tennessee closing in on making it a one possession contest early in the fourth quarter, Jackson punctuated a terrific goal-line stand when he picked off a Ryan Tannehill (11-for-21, 93 yards) pass in the back of the end zone on fourth-and-goal.
It was Jackson’s seventh interception of the season and he had some help from McCourty to register the pick as McCourty deflected the pass before Jackson came down with it.
“Dev, he was in the right position,” said Jackson as the Patriots lead the NFL with 19 interceptions. “It was a great call by our defensive coach. He tipped the ball up and I made a play.”
Jackson, who went undrafted out of Maryland, certainly has had no issues cementing himself as the Patriots top corner after former NFL Defensive MVP Stephon Gilmore didn’t play for the Patriots this season and then got traded to the Carolina Panthers in early October.
Jackson’s penchant for creating turnovers hasn’t gone unnoticed by his teammates, either. Patriots linebacker Matt Judon referred to Jackson as “Mr. Picks,” and it sure is a suitable nickname for a player that always seems to come up with them.
“Whatever he’s doing, it’s working for him,” Judon said. “J.C.’s a great player and all the recognition and whatever he gets he deserves because the way he’s playing and the way he’s getting the ball back for our defense, our offense, our team is amazing.”