BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots defense still has a long way to go to climb out of the basement of the National Football League, but Thursday night’s win was certainly a step forward – especially for offseason acquisition Stephon Gilmore.
Playing man-to-man coverage against the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans, Gilmore held the wideout to five catches for just 49 yards and kept him out of the end zone. The cornerback certainly improved in the communication department with the rest of the Patriots secondary, which was a major focus after last weekend’s loss to the Panthers. But he admitted to reporters after the game that he felt much more comfortable just locking down Evans, who was easily the Bucs’ biggest receiving threat.
“I was locked in on the communication. I was following Evans, so that made it a little easier,” said Gilmore. “I got my guy, I’m good.”
Gilmore struggled mightily in the first four games of his Patriots career, especially when tasked with playing zone defense and mixing up his coverage assignments, which led to ugly defensive breakdowns. He credited Thursday night’s performance to the Patriots’ gameplan playing to his strengths as a press-man corner.
“I was happy [to hear I was covering Evans], to get on a guy and follow him everywhere he goes, study just him,” said Gilmore. “So I pretty much knew every route and it was fun.
“I think that’s what gets the best out of me, when I’m following a guy and studying that certain guy.”
Matt Patricia may still call for Gilmore to do different things and won’t necessarily assign him to a single receiver for every single game. It’s unlikely that the Patriots paid the corner $40 million guaranteed to do just one thing. But he at least showed that his first season in New England may not be a total disaster, and when tasked with taking a dangerous big-play receiver out of the game, he has a chance to excel.
The performance of Gilmore, who added that he was “out to prove something” on Thursday night, was potentially a good sign for the Patriots’ upcoming matchups against big receivers like the Falcons’ Julio Jones, the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas, and the Steelers’ Martavis Bryant. His critics may be more confident in him now, but what really matters to him is that he earned the confidence of the Patriots.
“You’ve got to perform. You don’t, people are going to talk about what you do,” said Gilmore. “As long as my teammates respect what I do, that’s all that matters.”