FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Who says Bill Belichick can’t deliver a witty one-liner?
In the aftermath of his New England Patriots (8-4) winning 36-13 against the visiting Tennessee Titans (8-4) on Sunday — a game that was closer than the final score indicates — the coach was answering a question about longtime captain Devin McCourty and veered off course to add cornerback J.C. Jackson to the conversation.
“You leave any trash laying around, he’s going to pick it up,” Belichick said with a smile, marveling at Jackson forcing a critical fumble in the third quarter and later coming up with a fourth-quarter interception in the end zone.
Jackson’s knack for trash pickup (aka creating takeaways) was one of several notable storylines from a Patriots victory that was defined by the team not playing its cleanest game but finding a way to win.
The interception was the 24th of Jackson’s career, which is tied with Richard Sherman (Seattle Seahawks, 2011-14) and Kenny Easley (Seahawks, 1981-84) for the third most of any NFL player through his first four seasons since the 1970 merger. Only Everson Walls (25, Dallas Cowboys, 1981-84) and Lester Hayes (25, Raiders, 1977-80) have more.
As for Patriots history, Jackson’s 24 interceptions increase his own lead over Mike Haynes (22), Ron Bolton (18) and Ty Law (18) for most through the first four seasons of a career.
“Mr. Picks!” outside linebacker Matthew Judon exclaimed.
.@MR_INT more like Mr. Forced Fumble.
— New England Patriots (@Patriots) November 28, 2021
McCourty called him “Johnny on the spot,” which is often the case with interceptions, but Sunday’s forced fumble was a case of Jackson hustling to the spot to make a play.
The Patriots led 19-13 early in the third quarter, but their run defense — which had shown vulnerability in the first half by giving up 142 yards on 18 carries — sprung another big leak with D’Onta Foreman running through a gaping hole and surging into Patriots territory on a 30-yard gain.
What could have been a threatening situation was extinguished when Jackson tracked Foreman down from behind, punching the ball free with his right hand. Cornerback Jalen Mills recovered it along the sideline.
“See ball, get ball,” Jackson said of the play. “He didn’t have good ball security. As a defense, we talk about creating turnovers every day. Every day we punch at the ball.”
The Patriots forced four turnovers, which helped offset giving up 270 rushing yards, the second most ever allowed by a Belichick-coached Patriots team. Surprisingly, the Patriots are 4-0 under Belichick when allowing more than 250 yards rushing.
The Patriots (plus-four) are now 173-18 under Belichick when they have a positive turnover differential (2000-present). This season, they are plus-12, with 25 takeaways and 13 giveaways.
“We’ve been creating turnovers every week,” Jackson said. “We prepare for it. When it’s time to play, we execute and get it done.”
Jackson’s seven interceptions this season lead the AFC, and are second in the NFL behind Cowboys cornerback Trevon Diggs (eight). Jackson also leads the fan vote for the Pro Bowl among AFC cornerbacks (58,166).
“J.C. is a great player, and all the recognition he gets, he deserves,” Judon said. “The way he’s playing, and getting the ball back for our team, is amazing.”
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