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Bill Belichick has high praise for cornerback J.C. Jackson

Quarterback Cam Newton (right) smiles and gives a hand to teammate J.C. Jackson after Jackson's late-game interception.
Quarterback Cam Newton (right) smiles and gives a hand to teammate J.C. Jackson after Jackson's late-game interception.Jim Davis/Globe Staff

SEATTLE — As Bill Belichick saluted his team in the locker room following last week’s victory over Miami, he closed his remarks by handing the game ball to J.C. Jackson.

It was certainly apropos as Jackson had just effectively closed the win with an end zone interception of Ryan Fitzpatrick. It was a two-fold shout-out by the coach, who also recognized that Jackson is about to be a father, giving the cornerback a hug as teammates hollered in delight.

"I really take my hat off to J.C.,'' Belichick said right after the Patriots started 1-0. “I thought J.C. really competed well today. He showed a lot of mental toughness … So, I just wanted to personally congratulate him for that because that was good.”

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Jackson has showed excellent competitiveness since arriving as a little-known undrafted free agent in 2018. He flashed at minicamp but really shined during training camp. His quickness, mirror skills, and battle-to-the whistle style were on display daily that summer and he hasn’t let up a bit. Once Jackson gets on a receiver’s hip, he rarely lets him breathe as he has developed into one of the best deep ball cover corners in the NFL.

Though he’s a tad shorter than his listed 6 feet 1 inch, Jackson has the strength and athleticism to cover pass catchers of all shapes and sizes. His interception in Week 1 came on a ball targeted for 6-6 tight end Mike Gesicki.

While Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore gets most of the attention at the position and often draws the opponents' top receiving threat, he knows how valuable Jackson has been.

"J.C. was a guy who came in and has worked extremely hard. Very athletic, can cover anybody, has great ball skills, and keeps working every day,'' Gilmore said Friday.

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Gilmore has been impressed with Jackson’s instincts.

"He knows the game — he’s a natural out there,'' he said. "So, it’s fun playing with him because you can see him growing each and every day. Getting on that field, he loves playing the game, so he has that thing about him. I’m happy he’s on our team.''

Gilmore and Jackson were among the top corner tandems in the NFL last season and a big test awaits the entire New England secondary Sunday with Russell Wilson, whom Belichick believes is the top deep ball thrower in the league, firing balls to the dangerous duo of Tyler Lockett and D.K. Metcalf.

"Those guys are very explosive,'' said Gilmore. "D.K. is very strong, very explosive, and can make big catches. And Lockett is a great receiver, too. Great speed, good after the catch. [They have] a great quarterback, too. So, it’s going to be a big challenge for us.''

All clear

It’s smokeless in Seattle.

Periods of rain Friday and Saturday (imagine that in this city) helped clear the smoky air from the devastating West Coast wild fires that had produced unhealthy air quality for much of the last week.

Sunday’s forecast calls for mostly cloudy skies during the day with a high of 69 degrees but clouds are expected to dissipate by game time, when it will be around 55 for the 8:20 p.m. kickoff, 5:20 local time.

Thurman available

The Patriots elevated front-seven defender Nick Thurman for the game. The 6-4, 305-pounder spent last season on the New England’s practice squad. If active, this would be his first career action ... Cam Newton, who rushed for a game-high 75 yards last week, needs 48 yards to jump Randall Cunningham for second most rushing yards by a quarterback in NFL history. Cunningham finished his career with 4,928 in 2001, which was an NFL record at the time. He was eclipsed by Michael Vick (6,109) … Newton has rushed for at least 75 yards in consecutive games twice in his career … The Seahawks are 19-3 in their last 22 prime time games … Gilmore celebrated his 30th birthday Saturday … Saint Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale has by far the most alumni playing in the NFL with 11 — the second most schools have 6. Among those who have played for the Raiders are Patriots captain James White, Seahawks receiver Phillip Dorsett, and Chargers defensive end Joey Bosa … The last time the Patriots were not favored in a regular-season game (they’re 4-point underdogs) was the season opener in 2016 when Jimmy Garoppolo led the 9-point dogs to a 23-21 win over the Cardinals in Arizona, which coincidentally, also was the Sunday night game.

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Jim McBride can be reached at james.mcbride@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @globejimmcbride.