FOXBORO -- “It’s not a coincidence,” said an AFC scout. “Bill found someone who will do what he’s asking, will play it the way he’s asking and -- as an aside -- let Malcolm [Butler] play like Malcolm.”
The scout reached out to me. He watched what we watched Sunday night (or tried to watch through that damn fog). The Patriots defense against the Falcons was unrecognizable from the first six weeks of the season . . . which is to say it was good. No receivers running free with the closest defender in a different area code. No defensive backs gesturing “what the hell?” to other members of the secondary after yet another chunk play. After surrendering 26 of those chunk plays (20 yards or more) through the first half-dozen games, the Pats coughed up just two against a Falcons offense that was historically good just a year ago and returned basically the same personnel.
And Johnson Bademosi has been a central figure it the Pats revitialization.
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“Hey man, he’s been doing amazing, man,” Duron Harmon said Sunday night. “For him to fill in the role he’s been filling in -- covering Julio [Jones], covering everybody -- like he’s been playing phenomenal. I’m really excited for him. This guy just got here and is playing really good football for us.”
We detailed last week where Bademosi came from and the daunting assignment he had in front of him this weekend. At 6-foot-3 and 220 pounds, Julio Jones is the perfect weapon. As Bademosi told me after the game, Jones has it all: Speed, strength, run after catch, smarts. So how could an undrafted player who done his best work as a special teamer match up with that?
Well, for starters, the Pats were wise not to isolate Bademosi on Jones without help. There was always a safety tilted in that direction. The staff also didn’t make it a 1-on-1 affair from start to finish. Bademosi and Butler played sides mostly, meaning sometimes the former Stanford product got Jones but other times, it was Mohammad Sanu or Taylor Gabriel. Not exactly a walk in the park, but a little less stressful.
“I mean he’s one of the biggest threats on offense, and in order to stop the offense, you have to limit him,” said Bademosi of Jones, before adding, “They’re a familiar opponent. We studied what they do, prepared like it was the most important game of our lives and so that’s how it happened.”
Point is though, it was never suppose to happen with Bademosi as a central figure. This was suppose be a Stephon Gilmore game. The Pats paid him boatload of guaranteed cash for nights like this, to match up against the physical freaks like Julio Jones, or Mike Evans a couple weeks prior. But with Gilmore out the last two weeks, Bademosi is playing corner full-time and excelling.
“He’s their unsung hero right now,” said the AFC scout. “No ifs, ands or buts about it. It’s going to be very interesting when Stephon comes back.”
At worst, Bill Belichick and the defensive staff have found an added layer of competent depth for their secondary, a physical corner unfazed by his new role. At best, they’ve found a player who will fight to keep the spot that belonged to Gilmore, forcing the former Buffalo Bill to raise his level to get on the field and stay there.
Bademosi knows better than to focus on that. All he’s doing now is what he can do.
“We’re all just taking advantage of our opportunities,” said Bademosi. Are you enjoying those opportunities? “A lot.”