FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Quick-hit thoughts around the New England Patriots and NFL:
1. J.C. the 'ball magnet': The Patriots haven't had a player record back-to-back games with at least two interceptions since Mike Haynes did it in 1976, but if anyone is most likely to do it, players say it's J.C. Jackson.
"J.C. is a ball magnet," safety Adrian Phillips said. "Some people have to go find stuff, but everything finds him. There's a saying 'every squirrel finds a nut' but the nuts find J.C. It's crazy."
Jackson recorded two interceptions in last week's win against rookie quarterback Zach Wilson and the New York Jets, and there's a good chance he'll have opportunities for more this Sunday against up-and-down Jameis Winston and the 1-1 New Orleans Saints (1 p.m. ET, Fox).
Jackson has totaled 19 interceptions since entering the NFL as an undrafted free agent in 2018, which ties with Miami Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard for the most in the NFL. Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu (14), Baltimore Ravens cornerback Marcus Peters (12) and Denver Broncos safety Justin Simmons (12) are next on the list.
Teammates say they've seen growth in Jackson, particularly with his film study and knowledge of the game. Combine that with what longtime captain Devin McCourty described as "incredible ball skills", and receiver Nelson Agholor referring to him as "a defensive receiver", and it's been no surprise Jackson's high interception total has been a topic of conversation in the locker room.
"We talk about it all the time; it just seems like if someone fumbles, if a ball gets tipped in the air, it's probably J.C. that's going to be around the ball to catch it," McCourty said.
That's not to say it's been perfect, as Jackson was penalized in Week 2 for pass interference on a double move, and could have played the slant route better at times in Week 1.
Nonetheless, he is positioning himself for a nice payday. He's in the final year of his contract after being tendered at the second-round level as a restricted free agent, earning a base salary of $3.38 million.
That number, like his interception total, should be rising significantly.
2. 'What if' with Kamara: In the build-up to the 2017 NFL draft, Patriots coach Bill Belichick spent time at Tennessee meeting with running back Alvin Kamara and going over game film. Had New England not previously traded their second-round pick (No. 64) to the Panthers for a third-round pick (No. 72) and defensive end Kony Ealy, it's quite possible that Kamara (who went No. 67) would be playing against the Saints on Sunday instead of with them. The Patriots had Kamara rated highly. Reflecting on his visit with Belichick when asked this week, Kamara said: "Coach Belichick was cool. Obviously decorated and respected throughout the league. Sat down in the classroom, he was matter-of-fact, asked questions. But obviously, I didn't end up playing for him."
3. 'Laid-back' Mac: Rookie quarterback Mac Jones is connecting with teammates on and off the field. His demeanor in the locker room, in particular, has made an impression on Phillips, the safety now in his eighth NFL season. "Just how laid-back he is. He talks to everybody. He just wants to be part of the conversation. You hear him [reciting] lyrics from certain songs," Phillips said. "He's super relaxed for a rookie. A lot of times, you see rookies come in, they don't want to say too, too much. But he's comfortable being in the conversation and just being one of the guys."
4. Judon on special teams: Belichick has always played starters on special teams, but two factors might be worthy of consideration for him to pull prized free-agent signing Matt Judon off the punt rush/return unit: Judon has been slowed by his knee, and the Patriots have to be the league leader in devoting six roster spots to players whose primary or sole contributions come in the kicking game -- Matthew Slater, Justin Bethel, Cody Davis, Brandon King, Brandon Bolden and Harvey Langi. With Judon, the risk seems to greatly outweigh the potential reward given the plethora of other options.
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5. TB12's return: Once the Patriots' game against the Saints is finished Sunday, the page will turn quickly to Tom Brady's return to town with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That didn't stop some in the aggressive New England media corps from getting a head start, with one outlet sending a reporter to Tampa this past week, and another speaking with Brady's trainer, Alex Guerrero, about his thoughts that Belichick didn't evolve with Brady as he advanced into his 30s and 40s. How big is the game? ESPN's Sunday NFL Countdown will broadcast live from Gillette Stadium next Sunday, and national news programs are scheduled to have a reporter on site in the days leading up to it. As for the action on the field, I'd expect the league to assign one of its senior top referees to oversee it, such as Super Bowl LIV referee Bill Vinovich.
6. Edelman on Mac: Former Patriots receiver Julian Edelman is encouraged with what he's seen from Jones to this point. The new "Inside the NFL" analyst said he is looking forward to meeting Jones on Sunday -- when Edelman will be honored at halftime -- and added: "Seeing his progression each and every week, he's been playing pretty well. I know he hasn't lit up the scoreboard and all that, but you can see baby steps are progressing. I'm excited for the coaches and players to keep that going and see what he's really made of. There's going to be some bumps in the road and we'll see how he reacts, but I like his demeanor, and think he's a stud."
7. Assumption pride: Saints returner Deonte Harris, who played at Division II Assumption University in Worcester, Massachusetts and set the NCAA all-division record with 14 punt and kickoff returns for TDs, has received rave reviews from the Patriots this week. Belichick referred to him as one of the best returners in the NFL, and special teams captain Matthew Slater said he reminds him of Darren Sproles, an all-time great. All of which sparks a question: How did someone in the Patriots' backyard wind up in New Orleans? Harris went undrafted in 2019, mainly due to his size, and said only four or five NFL teams held workouts with him. Saints special teams coordinator (and former Rhode Island coach) Darren Rizzi was his biggest champion, and his conviction -- which included bringing Harris to New Orleans for a pre-draft visit -- trumped any Patriots pursuit.
When @ChrisHogan_15 sees a familiar face during his Zoom.— Mike Reiss (@MikeReiss) September 24, 2021
He'll be back Sunday with the Saints, wearing No. 80, which he says he received permission from @DannyAmendola to don.
Of @Edelman11 halftime honor, he jokes/laughs: "Already! He's only been retired like six months." pic.twitter.com/XK25nVVo8a
8. Belichick-Payton comparison: Belichick and the Saints' Sean Payton are the longest tenured head coaches in the NFL with their respective teams -- Belichick at 22 years, Payton at 16. They have big-time respect for each other, with Belichick calling the Saints one of the best coached teams in the league. Saints receiver Chris Hogan has played for both and offered his unique perspective when he said, "Sometimes if I'm in a team meeting, I feel like I'm listening to Bill with how Sean prepares us for any and all situations that could be coming up in a football game."
9. Payton's stat: The Saints were plus-3 in the turnover differential in their blowout win against the Green Bay Packers in Week 1, and then minus-1 in their loss to the Panthers last Sunday. Payton amplified that point heading into Sunday's game against the Patriots, saying: "Under Bill since 2001, they are 108-7 when they win the turnover battle at home. That's your stat of the week." Have to appreciate it when coaches bring stats of the week to their news conferences.
10. Did You Know: The Patriots extended their winning streak after holding a double-digit halftime lead to 40 last week, which is the longest active run in the NFL.