FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Making his first NFL start and playing in 54 of 61 defensive snaps, rookie free agent J.C. Jackson literally had a hand in New England’s 24-10 win over the Minnesota Vikings at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

Jackson’s breakup of a 42-yard Kirk Cousins pass intended for Aldrick Robinson in the end zone deflected into the hands of safety Duron Harmon for a game-sealing interception with 4:41 to play.

“He just did a good job of being on top of the nine route (go route),” said Harmon. “It gave me a chance to get my hands on the ball. I’ve been saying it all year. He plays the fade (route) as good as anybody that I’ve been around. He’s an exceptional young corner and that’s the reason why he was out there.”

Signed by the Patriots in May, Jackson made an immediate impression during the team’s offseason camps and training camp, and made the 53-man roster. He was inactive for the first two games of the season, but since has appeared in nine of the past 10, registering 11 tackles, two interceptions and three passes defensed.

“J.C.’s worked really hard, made a lot of improvement this year going all the way back to the spring and coming in as an undrafted player, just has really worked his way all the way up to a spot on the roster, and then earning playing time, so he’s just been dependable and gotten better every day,” Patriots Coach Bill Belichick said. “It’s not always perfect but he learns from his mistakes and corrects things.”

With the Patriots employing a nickel defense with three cornerbacks (Stephon Gilmore and Jason McCourty played every defensive snap; Jackson played 89 percent), Jackson was credited with four tackles and one pass defensed on Sunday, but in addition to the pass deflected to Harmon, the 6-foot-1, 198-pounder played tight coverage on passes intended for Adam Thielen and Robinson in the end zone in the third quarter, forcing the Vikings to settle for a 39-yard field goal by Dan Bailey that made it 10-10.

“I just felt like I was ready,” said Jackson. “I prepared all week and I knew I had to come and make plays, that the team depended on me. So I just had to show them.”

According to McCourty, Jackson has shown plenty to his teammates in practice time and again.

“We have fun with J.C.,” said McCourty. “He’s the guy that in practice, he makes the one-handed interceptions. Whenever he’s on the field, like (Sunday), he didn’t get a pick but he was around an interception and we keep telling him like, ‘When you get out there, we’re going to help you as much as possible, get you different information, and then once we tell you, just go play ball. We all have complete confidence in what you’ve been doing in coverage and how you play.'”

“He’s good, man,” said Harmon. “You can just tell. For him to be in a game like (Sunday’s) and to be able to get the trust of the team to go out there and not only play but play at a high level, it lets you know that he’s really good.”

WITH MIKE McCarthy’s firing by the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels’ name has already begun to circulate.

McDaniels was in line to become the coach of the Indianapolis Colts this season but called an audible and backed out after the team called a press conference to introduce him, choosing to remain an assistant on Bill Belichick’s staff in New England.

“If (becoming a head coach is) in the cards for me, then that’s great. I’ve said that before,” McDaniels said during a conference call Tuesday. “But again, I’m not worried about that right now.”

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