Total Bust Stephon Gilmore Helps Patriots to Seventh Straight Win

Published: 11/26/2017 8:13:42 PM
Modified: 11/12/2008 3:10:12 PM
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — When the New England Patriots’ 2017 season ended on October 1, it was all Stephon Gilmore’s fault. Just four games into his first year with the Pats, the former Bills’ cornerback had ruined everything.
Of course, the blame fell to Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, whose criminally insane general manager alter ego had royally fouled things up in the offseason. Bill The GM had given Gilmore an unconscionable, five-year, $65 million contract solely on the basis that Gilmore had been an excellent player immediately prior to the transaction. So, it was all Bill’s fault, too.
But of course, all of the blame belonged solely to Gilmore when it didn’t belong entirely to Belichick. The cornerback had rendered the dream of a Patriots’ victory in Super Bowl LII impossible by playing poorly in that Week 4 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The Patriots were a bleak 2-2 after four games. While the data is difficult to parse, any New England sports fan with their dial preset to 98.5 FM can tell you that no football team has ever come back from a 2-2 start to win anything. Ever. And so ended the Patriots’ season.
The darn shame of the Patriots’ season ending on October 1 is that they have played quite well since then. With a 35-17 victory over the Miami Dolphins on Sunday, the Pats have won seven consecutive games and sit at 9-2 heading into a key stretch of three consecutive road games. The defense, which was entirely to blame for New England’s dismal start by giving up an average of 30.25 points over the first month, has improved. The Pats have allowed just 85 points over their last seven games, an average of 12.14 points, which isn’t that bad for a terrible defense that could never win a championship. The improvement would be so encouraging if the Patriots still had something to play for.
Gilmore, the Destroyer of Seasons, has also been outstanding lately, exhibiting a consistent ability to shut down an opponent’s top receiver. On Sunday, he delivered one of the most important plays of the game, making a key pre-snap read to intercept a pass from Miami quarterback Matt Moore in the end zone just before halftime. The play robbed the Dolphins of a precious scoring opportunity and a chance to change the game’s momentum.
Gilmore said the Dolphins had run the same route for receiver DeVante Parker earlier in the game, and that based on film study, he knew Miami was about to come back to it. After pressing Parker on the seam route earlier in the game, Gilmore instead played off the receiver so he could see the ball. With the ability to watch the throw, Gilmore was able to beat Parker to the ball.
“Offenses run the same stuff most of the time,” Gilmore said. “They’ll go back to what they know. So, you study enough, you make the play.”
It was the kind of play a fan might expect from a player who’s worthy of a large contract and was not an absolute, free-agent bust who ruined everything.

As Gilmore himself said in the aftermath of the season-ending loss to the Panthers, the Patriots defense was suffering from communication problems due to his arrival in the secondary. Anyone worried about the persistence of those communication issues had to look no further than Moore’s final throw of the game. On that play, Gilmore and safety Duron Harmon could not coordinate on which one of them should intercept the throw. So, both of them intercepted it. Eventually Gilmore left Harmon with the ball and credit for the turnover.
“I had it, he had it, but I told him I’m a team player,” Gilmore said. “So I gave it to him.”
One could not help but look at this game and see what Belichick was trying to achieve when he paired Gilmore with Malcolm Butler at the cornerback position. The Patriots’ coverage helped their no-name front seven rack up seven sacks, New England’s highest total since an eight-sack game against the Bills in 2015. The Pats forced three turnovers and for the first time this season you could give this non-championship defense the lion’s share of credit for a victory.
Unfortunately, the improvement, growth and time it took for that vision to manifest was wasted. Belichick The GM ruined the season before it began. The Patriots lost Dont’a Hightower to injury, and Rob Ninkovich retired. Julian Edelman got hurt. The 9-2 Pats remain one of the most disastrous catastrophes of all time. Their season ended nearly two months ago. And yet, they haven’t stopped winning.
Dave Brown is a freelance correspondent who covers the Patriots for the Monitor. You can follow him on Twitter @ThatDaveBrown.

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