Inexplicably bad start for Gilmore, Patriots defense gets worse

Published: 10/1/2017 8:00:26 PM
Modified: 11/12/2008 3:10:12 PM

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Cam Newton was down on the turf, sacked and defeated, smothered beneath the Patriots’ rookie defensive end Deatrich Wise Jr.  After squandering a 14-point lead in the fourth quarter, Newton’s Panthers would have to surrender the ball to New England with about two minutes left. Pencil in another historic comeback for Tom Brady and company.
But then, an untimely yellow flag hit the turf, reviving the Panthers and plunging the Patriots’ young season into a moment of chaos with a 33-30 loss to Carolina.
The flag was the fault of New England’s highly compensated newcomer, cornerback Stephon Gilmore, for illegal use of the hands to a receiver’s face. Gilmore committed that infraction twice in Sunday’s game. Both of his penalties came on third downs when the Panthers had otherwise failed to convert. The drives extended by his penalties, neither of which were near the ball, led to 10 Carolina points. For the fourth time in two weeks, a Gilmore penalty had given an opponent a first down.
“I was playing aggressive, I don’t know what else I can do,” said Gilmore, who explained that on both occasions his hands had inadvertently slid into the area of the receiver’s neck. “I’m going to keep playing aggressive, and you know refs are going to call it sometimes.”
Gilmore, whose five-year, $65-million contract guarantees him $40 million, is an exceptional talent who has had a decisively unexceptional month. Apart from the penalties, the 2016 Pro Bowler acknowledged Sunday that his inability to communicate with new teammates has been a key reason for the underwhelming performance of the Patriots defense.
On paper, New England’s secondary would appear be one of the team’s strengths. On the field, the secondary has had consistently embarrassing coverage problems. As a result, the Pats have allowed a franchise-worst 128 points through their first four games.
“It’s my fault on the communication,” Gilmore said. “It’s frustrating when it’s communication, when it’s not really (playing) ability. I got to get better at the communication.”
The communication issues were especially evident on Fozzy Whittaker’s 28-yard touchdown reception in the second quarter. The Panthers put Christian McCaffrey in motion on that play, sending him from Newton’s left to Newton’s right. Gilmore and safety Devin McCourty both recognized the motion and both pointed to McCaffrey, indicating the that the defense needed to adjust. Then both of defensive backs darted across the field to cover McCaffrey. This mistake left the left side vacant when Whittaker caught the screen from Newton and darted to the end zone.
“That was a bad play,” McCourty said. “It looked like a couple idiots out there.”
Gilmore said the complexity of the Patriots defense is not to blame for the communication issues. Safety Duron Harmon confirmed that sentiment saying, “we’ve simplified it as much as we can.”
The Patriots are in an interesting position of playing historically bad, but possessing the talent to play at a much higher level. It remains inexplicable why New England hasn’t been able to correct its communication problems, but McCourty was not interested in pointing fingers at Gilmore. He said it’s an issue the unit as a whole is responsible for solving.
“We still need everybody to play well and play on the same page.” McCourty said. “To me, it’s just the issue. It doesn’t matter who it is and how we got there. We’ve just got to fix the issue.”
Gilmore said it’s a matter of thinking the way his teammates do. “You’ve got to see it like everybody else sees it,” he said.
It’s a feat Gilmore and the Patriots defense have not mastered during the first month, and now they have just three days to sort out the problem before they face the Buccaneers in Tampa Bay on Thursday night. Gilmore said they would get back to work on that solution on Monday.
“That’s the plan,” McCourty said. “Or we’ll all be out of jobs soon.”
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.

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