BOSTON (CBS) — The Patriots mostly dominated the Broncos in all three phases of the game against the Broncos on Sunday night, but one of the few down nights was for cornerback Malcolm Butler. As No. 21 largely struggled to cover Broncos wideout Emmanuel Sanders, fellow corner Stephon Gilmore had to step up his game on the other side against Demaryius Thomas. And for the most part, Gilmore answered the bell.
Thomas was able to make one good play with Gilmore covering him, a seven-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter that cut the Patriots’ lead to 27-16 and momentarily gave the Broncos hope. But up to that point, Gilmore blanketed the mostly ineffective Thomas in man-to-man coverage as the wideout finished with five catches on eight targets for just 44 yards.
Speaking to reporters after the Pats’ 41-16 win in Denver, Gilmore echoed the sentiments of his post-game remarks after his strong performance against the Buccaneers’ Mike Evans in Week 5. The ex-Bills corner has now proven in two straight games that he can excel in man-to-man against big receiving threats.
“I like going out there and covering a certain guy,” said Gilmore. “That’s one thing I like to do, get used to that guy and get physical and play to my [safety] help and make plays.”
It was obvious from the get-go that a big part of the Patriots’ defensive game plan was to man up with Gilmore and Butler against Thomas and Sanders, respectively. The Broncos were only able to make big plays when Sanders was beating Butler down the field, which speaks to how well Gilmore was covering Thomas on most snaps. At the end of the day, both corners were just happy that the defense did enough to get the W.
“Malcolm was on [Sanders] and I was on [Thomas], and we studied those guys and knew the majority of their routes,” said Gilmore. “They switched up some stuff, but at the end of the day we came out of the win, so we were happy.”
Gilmore may still need to do more than just cover a single receiver in future game plans for defensive coordinator Matt Patricia, but it’s becoming clearer every game he plays that he is at his best playing press-man against those big targets.