ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Swagger, confidence, and a short memory are the keys to being a successful cornerback.
J.C. Jackson possesses all those qualities.
And then some.
Jackson is quick, athletic, and has a nose for the ball, putting them all on display Sunday in the Patriots’ 24-21 loss to the Bills.
Jackson, thrust into the role of the No. 1 corner with Stephon Gilmore nursing a knee injury, handled the job of covering Stefon Diggs with aplomb and also picked off his team-high fourth pass of the season.
Diggs did have five catches for 84 yards when being shadowed by Jackson, but the third-year corner made his share of plays, too, erasing Josh Allen’s top target on plenty of plays.
“I felt pretty good coming in and preparing all week,” said Jackson, who was questionable with a knee injury and also left for one play with what appeared to be leg cramps. “Just going against a good receiver … I’m a playmaker just like he’s a playmaker.”
If Gilmore is out for an extended time — or gets moved by Tuesday’s trade deadline — Jackson believes he’s ready to take over as a top cover corner.
“I mean, of course,” said Jackson, who has a dozen career interceptions and is riding a three-game streak. “Why not?”
Teammates have long raved about Jackson since he arrived as an undrafted free agent three years ago. His tracking coverage on deep balls is among the best in the league and he’s given up just one touchdown this season.
“Oh, I’ve said it plenty of times: We have as much confidence in J.C. as anybody on this team,” said Devin McCourty. "He leads the team in interceptions. The guy’s a ball magnet every time he’s out there. He just continues to get better as a young player. And it’s just like all of us. We’ve all got to be more consistent out there. But you talk about confidence, there’s not a player in our secondary that I have more confidence in when we go out there.''
McCourty and Hall of Famer Mike Haynes own the Patriots record with a pick in four straight.
“I thought the group of corners did a great job without our guy today without Gilly,” McCourty said. “Everyone stepped up, covered their butts off. We just got to continue to build on that and continue to get better. When you lose a guy, it’s an opportunity for us to get better. Myles [Bryant] getting a chance to be out here, I thought was great. And just have to continue to get better in the secondary.”
It was Bryant’s first NFL action.
Uche makes debut
Josh Uche also made his professional debut and the second-rounder from Michigan showed some nice flashes. He only had one tackle, but he created some pressure on Allen and landed a hit on the Bills quarterback.
Following a strong camp, Uche was a healthy scratch in Week 1 and then suffered a foot injury that forced a stint on injured reserve.
Uche, who showed the versatility to play on and off the ball this summer when he ran with the starters a lot, took over in the middle late Sunday when Ja’Whaun Bentley left the game with a groin injury.
Guy, Bentley injured
The Patriots' loss was compounded by the loss of Lawrence Guy to a shoulder injury in the second half. The team’s steadiest interior lineman was missed as the Bills unlocked some doors in the second half, piling up 111 of their 190 rushing yards over the final 30 minutes with Guy in the locker room.
There was no immediate word on Guy’s or Bentley’s injuries.
Meyers the top target
With top receivers Julian Edelman and N’Keal Harry both sidelined with injuries, second-year receiver Jakobi Meyers showed he’s a viable option in the passing game.
Meyers caught six of his team-high 10 targets for 58 yards, and those numbers could have been even higher if penalties by the offensive line didn’t wipe out two of his longer receptions.
“We had a lot of production from a lot of different people in the game,” coach Bill Belichick said. “We just have to try to find a little bit more. Jakobi’s worked hard and definitely had opportunities the last couple weeks and has taken advantage of them.”
Meyers said he’s viewed the increased reps as “stepping stones,” and he’s trying to use the additional playing time as an opportunity to build trust with the coaches and quarterback Cam Newton. He’ll likely continue to see the field with Edelman on injured reserve.
He’s hopeful his chemistry with Newton will only improve.
“I feel like we’re trending in the right direction,” Meyers said. “Hopefully, we can keep building on that and keep it going. Just keep improving.”
Bills lose starting center to concussion
The Bills lost starting center Mitch Moore to a concussion in the first quarter, forcing Jon Feliciano, who was making his first start of the season after recovering from a pectoral injury, to slide over from his left guard spot. “He was huge,” Allen said of Feliciano. “Relentless effort from him … He stepped up and made some plays for us.” … Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes, an 11-year veteran of these clashes, simply said, “Man, that was fun” after the game … There was one warm moment during the chilly pregame scene when Patriots rookie Cassh Maluia jogged over to Allen and bearhugged the Bills quarterback, lifting him off the ground. The two played together at Wyoming and still have a close bond.
Nicole Yang of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
More Patriots coverage
- Instant analysis: Bad teams find ways to lose, and loss to Bills shows the Patriots are definitely a bad team
- Dan Shaughnessy: For Patriots, Bills loss means it’s over: the division, the path to playoffs, and the dynasty
- As it happened: Late Cam Newton fumble paves way for Bills to hand Patriots fourth straight loss
- For Damien Harris, his strong showing doesn’t make up for a Patriots loss