BOSTON (CBS) — With one final shot to prove he belongs on the New England Patriots’ Week 1 roster, J.C. Jackson did not disappoint in Thursday night’s preseason finale.
The undrafted cornerback left it all out on the field against the New York Giants, putting up his best performance of the preseason in New England’s 17-12 victory. The Maryland product came down with a pair of interceptions and defended four other passes, playing strong coverage throughout the game.
Jackson first picked off Giants quarterback Kyle Lauletta in the first quarter. He didn’t bite on a double move by Kalif Raymond and kept stride with the receiver, turning to find Lauletta’s deep ball. He picked off another deep pass by Lauletta in the third quarter, again striding up the left sideline to stay with his man. This time, Jackson tipped a Lauletta’s long pass for Roger Lewis to himself, again looking more like a receiver than a corner.
The display by Jackson was an emphatic exclamation point in his quest to make the 53-man roster. Knowing he was on the bubble, Jackson said he was a man on a mission Thursday night.
“I had something to prove. I knew I had to ball,” he told reporters from the cramped visitor locker room inside MetLife Stadium. “This is the last preseason game and I’m trying to make the roster.”
Jackson showed strong ball skills throughout camp and in the preseason, with Thursday night’s two interceptions a great sign that he’s learning and adapting to the NFL game.
“Coach was telling me all week to turn my head around on the deep ball. I turned my head around and I just made a play on the ball,” he said. “I became the receiver and just made a play. The second one was the same thing; I turned around and made a play.”
The rookie’s performance should solidify his spot on the Patriots, continuing a 14-year trend of an undrafted free agent making New England’s Week 1 roster.
“We’ll find out Saturday,” he said casually, with a twinge of optimism.
Jackson spent camp battling fellow rookie Keion Crossen and veteran corner Jason McCourty. Crossen had another strong game Thursday night and also has a great shot at making the squad, while McCourty was moved to safety for the second straight game. Bill Belichick has a tough decision to make with McCourty ahead of Saturday’s 4 p.m. roster deadline, a decision that wasn’t made any easier with the emergence for both Jackson and Crossen during the preseason.
Jackson knows he’s no lock to make the roster, and even if he does, he’ll have to continue to work hard to stick. But he’s pleased with what he showed every day during camp and with how he played Thursday night, and is confident he can keep building on his game.
“I feel like I improved every day. I went out to practice and worked hard and did what coaches asked me to do,” he said. “I felt like I had a pretty good game, but I have a lot more to improve and get better on.”
It’s looking like Jackson will get that chance to get better on an NFL roster.