BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots secondary has played as poorly as any in the National Football League through the first four weeks of the 2017 season. Offseason acquisition Stephon Gilmore is certainly on the list of reasons why.
The cornerback, who signed with the Patriots for five years and $40 million guaranteed in March, committed a back-breaking illegal hands to the face penalty late in the fourth quarter of the Patriots’ 33-30 loss to the Panthers on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. The flag negated what would have been a sack by rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr. that would have forced a punt and put the football back in Tom Brady’s hands with the game tied and under two minutes left in regulation.
Instead, the Panthers took the gift first down and drove 38 yards over the next seven plays to set up Graham Gano’s game-winning field goal in the closing seconds.
Gilmore spoke to reporters after the game about the costly hands to the face penalty, which was his second of the game. Asked if he was surprised about the flag, he chalked it up to aggression.
“I was surprised, but I was playing aggressive and I don’t know what else I could do,” said Gilmore.
His second hands to the face penalty didn’t look egregious on replay, but you can see Panthers receiver Devin Funchess’ helmet snap backward during the play:
His first hands to the face penalty was more obvious, as this shot shows he clearly got a piece of wideout Kelvin Benjamin’s facemask:
Even more avoidable for Gilmore were his ugly mistakes in coverage, which led to several big plays by Cam Newton and the Panthers. The corner blew his assignments on two of the most important plays of the game, Fozzy Whitaker’s 28-yard touchdown in the second quarter and Funchess’ second touchdown of the game late in the third.
Regardless of whether or not the officials should have flagged Gilmore on the second hands to the face penalty, it was already clear that they were watching for it – and that the Patriots would not have been in danger of losing in the first place without the secondary’s communication breakdowns.