By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston

BOSTON (CBS) — The start of Stephon Gilmore’s career as a highly paid member of the New England Patriots was inauspicious to say the least. The Patriots’ apparent defensive turnaround during his injury absence became a notable observation around these parts.

But since returning to the field, Gilmore has very much been a positive contributor to the defense, and the sixth-year corner turned in his best performance of the season on Sunday against the Dolphins.

To be fair, Gilmore wasn’t tested much. But when he was, he was ready.

Dolphins quarterback Matt Moore targeted Gilmore just three times on Sunday. The first came on the Dolphins’ first offensive snap of the day, a five-yard completion to DeVante Parker on a crossing route. Gilmore trailed Parker by just a step and made the tackle on the receiver immediately after the completion.

capture49 Stephon Gilmore Nearly Perfect When Tested Vs. Dolphins

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

Moore didn’t throw Gilmore’s way until the final play of the first half, and the 10th-year quarterback definitely regrets doing so.

With three receivers lined up to the left side, the Patriots manned up all three. Gilmore took on Parker, who was in the middle of the trips set.

untitled 110 Stephon Gilmore Nearly Perfect When Tested Vs. Dolphins

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

Moore faced no pressure and stood in a clean pocket, but nevertheless lofted a back-foot lob to the end zone. It was essentially a jump ball. Gilmore was able to turn his head around, find the floating football, and make a play on the ball before Parker could.

untitled 34 Stephon Gilmore Nearly Perfect When Tested Vs. Dolphins

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

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Stephon Gilmore intercepts a pass intended for DeVante Parker. (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)

It wasn’t anything particularly complex, but it was good, solid man coverage and an athletic play on the football. But it was also the result of preparation.

“They ran that route on us earlier in the first quarter and I knew they were going to come back to it,” Gilmore said. “I know every time Parker is in the slot he runs the seam empty, so I just beat him to the spot.”

Gilmore’s pick directly took points off the board for Miami before halftime, when the Patriots led by 11.

Moore avoided Gilmore for almost the entirety of the second half, finally throwing Gilmore’s way on what turned out to be Moore’s final pass of the game. That’s because just like on the play to end the first half, Moore threw to a well-covered Adams running a streak up the left side.

Gilmore ran with Parker step for step, found the football, spun, leaped, and made a play on the ball. He had an interception in his hands before safety Duron Harmon flew over and took it out of his hands.

capture50 Stephon Gilmore Nearly Perfect When Tested Vs. Dolphins

(Screen shot from NFL.com/GamePass)

gettyimages 879715364 Stephon Gilmore Nearly Perfect When Tested Vs. Dolphins

DeVante Parker, Stephon Gilmore, Duron Harmon (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)

“I had it, he had it, but I told him I’m a team player so I gave it to him,” Gilmore said of Harmon after the 35-17 win.

Harmon had some praise for his fellow defensive back, too.

“He’s a fighter. When he had his little problems at the beginning of the year he didn’t make excuses. He just came to work each and every day and he worked hard at it,” Harmon said. “It just shows the type of person he is, the type of player he is, the type of competitor he is and I’m glad he’s in my corner.”

Sunday’s performance was the culmination of that effort, with Pro Football Focus pointing out that Moore’s passer rating when targeting Gilmore was 2.8.

(PFF said Gilmore was targeted just twice, which is … odd. He was certainly targeted on all three throws.)

While Gilmore’s steps forward a positive sign of progress, the corner will face arguably the toughest challenge yet in his brief tenure as a Patriot when he returns to his old stomping grounds of Orchard Park next weekend. There, the fans — and the media, for that matter — will be all over Gilmore from the moment he steps onto the field.

A repeat performance from Sunday — or something close to it — would be well-timed on his part.

You can email Michael Hurley or find him on Twitter @michaelFhurley.

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