FOXBORO -- If Stephon Gilmore was looking for a smooth transition from Buffalo to New England, he’s out of luck. The Patriots' newest and most expensive cornerback has found himself at the center of a maelstrom.
Week after week, every time you look up, it’s Gilmore who is either getting beat for a big play, in the general vicinity of a big play, or getting flagged for critical penalties that extend eventual scoring drives.
PANTHERS 33, PATRIOTS 30
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The latest nightmare on Patriot Place happened Sunday in a 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers. The earliest example was a 28-yard scoring strike to Fozzy Whittaker that saw both Gilmore and Devin McCourty adjust to motion and leave the entire backside of the play wide open. You’d be hard pressed to think of another time when the Pats defense left someone that alone.
The ensuing drive, there was an issue with Eric Rowe that let Devin Funchess slip into the end zone unencumbered and uncovered. Score another touchdown for the previously point-challenged Panthers.
As if those weren’t enough, Gilmore was whistled for a pair of hands-to-the-face penalties, both on third downs, both negating positive defensive plays. Cam Newton and company took advantage of both occasions. The first led to Funchess’ second TD, which gave Carolina a 23-16 lead.
That came at a bad time. The second came at the worst.
Deitrich Wise sacked Newton on third down, just three plays after the Patriots had rallied from two scores down to tie the game, 30-30, late in the fourth quarter, but the play was negated by another penalty against Gilmore. Instead of having to punt -- and giving Tom Brady a chance for yet another last-minute gate-winning drive -- the Panthers were given a first down. They then marched on, recording a couple more first downs and eventually kicking the game-winning field goal at the clock struck zero.
“iI was surprised,” said Gilmore of the second penalty, “but I was playing aggressive. I don’t know what else I can do.”
Play better. That's a no-brainer. Although in Gilmore’s eyes, this isn’t a physical issue; rather, it’s all about a secondary and a defense that isn’t on the same page.
“It’s communication,” he said. “We gotta get better on the communication. I gotta get better on the communication.”
That’d word -- communication -- came up repeatedly in the nearly six-minute interview with the soft-spoken corner; 11 times by count. Gilmore isn’t wearing down from the expectations that happen the moment you get paid and Malcolm Butler doesn’t, but it’s also troublesome to him, for sure.
“It’s frustrating when it’s communication, when it’s not ability,” Gilmore said. “I gotta get better at the communication part. It’s my fault on the communication.”
That remains to be seen. The Pats aren’t into revealing who screwed up and who didn’t, but the fact that Gilmore didn’t start the third quarter in base defense may very well be an indication that the coaching staff was putting some -- if not all -- of the blame on Gilmore. Or he could have had an equipment issue. It’s a moot point anyway, as Eric Rowe re-injured his groin on that very play and put Gilmore back into the spotlight.
“I’m a corner," said Gilmore. "It’s my sixth year. Got a short-term memory. So I can handle it.”
He needs to, and that needs to happen sooner rather than later. Or the Pats might just have a problem that they just can’t fix.