Patriots

J.C. Jackson nervous but confident heading into Patriots' playoff debut

J.C. Jackson nervous but confident heading into Patriots' playoff debut

FOXBORO -- How the Patriots will try to match up with Chargers receivers isn't clear at the moment, but wherever J.C. Jackson ends up, he'll be confident.

It's how he's been all season, and it's worked. He's worked into the starting lineup in one of the best secondaries in the league, and he's performed above and beyond his draft position. (He, uh, wasn't drafted.) Why change now?

"I feel like nobody could catch a pass on me, that's my mindset," Jackson on Wednesday. "Whoever I'm guarding, whoever's in front of me, that's my job. Make sure he doesn't catch the ball."

Who's our best guess as to which Chargers receiver that will be?

Philip Rivers has a receiving corps at his disposal that has the potential to be among the most dangerous the Patriots have seen this year.

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Keenan Allen is the team's clear-cut No. 1, as he sees a whopping 26.4 percent of throws sent in his direction. At 6-foot-2 and about 210 pounds, he has the size to be able to play outside, but he sees almost half of his targets (47 percent) from the slot as one of the sport's best route-runners.

Mike Williams is the Chargers' big-play threat, and has looked the part over the course of the last few weeks with eight catches on 14 targets for 114 yards (14.3 yards per catch) since Week 16.

Allen returned from injury that week against the Ravens and since then has caught 13 passes on 18 targets for 159 yards (12.2 yards per catch).

If the Patriots want to handle the duo the same way they handled Minnesota's back in Week 13, then maybe Stephon Gilmore will live outside the numbers with Williams (as he did, for the most part, with Stefon Diggs) while the Patriots double Allen inside with Jason McCourty or Jackson and a safety. 

Tyrell Williams is L.A.'s No. 3 and Jackson could find himself in a one-on-one matchup there as well.

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If the Patriots feel good about Jackson on Mike Williams one-on-one -- and there's reason to believe they should -- then they could have Gilmore follow Allen. 

Jackson has taken over the No. 2 corner role in the Patriots defense in recent weeks, he's cemented himself as among the league leaders in quarterback rating against, and Bill Belichick sang his praises last month for the improvement he's shown in his rookie season.

"Steady," Belichick said. "Steady grinder. One day at a time, just trying to get better. If he makes mistakes, try to correct it. He works at it, usually shows some improvement in that area, go on to something else. 

"But, his durability, his consistency and just being out there every day practicing, doing things, getting corrected, getting better, working on them the next day. I mean, that’s really how you improve. So, practicing and being durable and being consistent, it goes a long way."

As far as he's come, and as confident as he is, Jackson admitted there will be butterflies Sunday. There already are.

"Of course I'm nervous; it's my first playoff game," Jackson said. "I'm nervous but I'm ready. It's a 'ready' nervous."

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Tom Brady recruits Zdeno Chara as Rob Gronkowski's replacement

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Tom Brady recruits Zdeno Chara as Rob Gronkowski's replacement

Tom Brady has an idea for Rob Gronkowski's replacement at tight end, and it doesn't involve free agency or the upcoming NFL Draft.

The Patriots quarterback had a light bulb go off above his head while watching the Bruins take on the Maple Leafs in Game 7. Why not have 6-foot-9, 256-pound defenseman Zdeno Chara give tight end a shot?

All jokes aside, Brady has been one of Chara's biggest fans during the Bruins' first-round series. He also left a motivational comment on Chara's Instagram post prior to Tuesday night's Game 7 matchup.

As for what the Patriots are really doing to fill Gronk's void at tight end, they signed both Austin Seferian-Jenkins and Matt LaCosse in free agency during the offseason. It remains to be seen whether they'll address the tight end position during the NFL Draft, which begins April 25.

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Next-Pats Podcast: Draft week is finally here; Mike Lombardi talks assessing talent

Next-Pats Podcast: Draft week is finally here; Mike Lombardi talks assessing talent

At last, the draft has arrived - almost. Phil Perry talks to former Patriots staffer Mike Lombardi as the annual selection of talent looms.

3:42 - Phil Perry is joined by former assistant to the Patriots coaching staff, football analyst and writer for the Athletic Mike Lombardi. The two begin by discussing the validity of certain reports on players in the upcoming draft.

7:44 - Are the Patriots in a position where they need to pick a quarterback this year? Lombardi explains how difficult it is to judge talent because of the difference in the level of competition in college football.

12:26 - Lombardi talks about how this year's draft could be weak compared to previous years' and how the Patriots should approach their selections because of that.

18:36 - Phil goes through his final mock draft, with the picks being decided by the fans via Twitter polls.


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