New England’s safety corps did not disappoint. It helped keep Miami’s explosive offense in check and therefore played a major role in the 23-21 win — not just because of a massive Kyle Dugger pick-six in the third quarter.
Dugger was in the headlines after the game, and rightfully so, but he was not the only player at the safety spot worth talking about. Devin McCourty, for example, was his usual steady self and on the field for all 71 defensive snaps; Adrian Phillips played a valuable role as a rotational extra defender in the box.
And then, there was Jabrill Peppers.
An under-the-radar option when compared to the team captain (McCourty), emerging star (Dugger) and respected veteran (Phillips), he has served as the No. 4 at the position for much of the year. With the Patriots using more three- and four-safety looks against Miami, however, Peppers was given a prominent role and made the most out of if.
He was on the field for 45 snaps and registered eight tackles — new season-highs for the first-year Patriot.
“Everybody’s interchangeable,” he said after the game. “We all understand the game plan, we all understand what to do. It’s just the look we want to show the offense and how we want to move the moving parts.”
Peppers was one of these parts on Sunday. His impact extended beyond just being one part of the New England safety rotation, though. The 27-year-old also made his presence felt in quite a literal manner.
I enjoy watching Jabrill Peppers play football pic.twitter.com/akuNbkMjv4— Brian Hines (@iambrianhines) January 3, 2023
“Jabrill’s active. He’s a physical player, he’s got good quickness, good playing strength. He’s an impact hitter,” Belichick said on Monday. “He and Kyle and AP all provide a real physical presence to the second level of the defense in terms of contact. Whether it’s jamming the receivers or tackling, or the ability to play in space, he’s been a productive player for us.”
Peppers originally joined the NFL as a first-round draft pick by the Cleveland Browns in 2017, but after two seasons with the organization was sent to the New York Giants as part of the Odell Beckham Jr. trade in 2019. He went on to spend three years in the Big Apple, but ended his tenure as a Giant in unfortunate fashion.
Peppers tore his ACL in October of 2021, missing he rest of the season and facing considerable uncertainty heading into unrestricted free agency for the first time in his career. The key word for him was patience, but after two weeks on the open market he was finally picked up: the Patriots signed him to a one-year deal in early April.
While his knee injury was still front and center at that point, Peppers’ recovery process has gone well. In fact, he has been able to appear in all 16 of New England’s games so far this season.
And not just that: he also is making a strong case to be retained beyond his current contract.
Whether or not Peppers returns in 2023 remains to be seen. For now, the focus is on continuing his development and on making sure his aggressiveness does not come back to bite him — something Belichick pointed out as well.
“Biggest thing for those guys is just managing the aggressiveness. It’s called overaggressiveness or maybe being out of position a little bit,” Belichick said. “So, it’s just tampering hat aggressiveness with patience and making sure you’re getting a really good read on the play before you go all out to make the play. Make sure that you know exactly what it is that they’re doing, and that it’s not something that looks like one thing but it turns out to be something else.
“Players like that, that’s kind of the thing you really have to harp on just in general with those type of players. But he’s done a good job for us, and it’s good to have him on the field. He’s really helped us in the kicking game as well as defensively.”