TAMPA, Fla. --- Stephon Gilmore looked lost. He dug through his front pockets, then dropped his bag to quickly rummage though the contents of it’s outside pockets. No luck. He turned over a couple of towels that still sat in his locker. The sweat that had already soaked through his white dress shirt was now beaded up and dripping off his forehead. But just when all hope seemed lost, Gilmore brushed his back pocket to realize, yes, there’s my phone. Problem solved, at least for now.
You could say the same about the 27-year old’s performance on the field on a humid night in Tampa. With all eyes focused on the Patriots most expensive offseason acquisition, Gilmore had responded, playing the best game of his New England career.
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As he navigated his roller suitcase past teammates and shoulder pads and loose cleats, Gilmore explained to me what the night meant.
“I took it personal,” he said. “I knew what was happening wasn’t because of what type of player I am. I wasn’t getting beat. It was a communication thing. That was the only thing I needed to clean up.”
Some of those communication issues that had plagued Gilmore in particular, and the secondary in general, were cleaned up in the 19-14 win over the Buccaneers. The Patriots didn’t get much actual practice time, instead of having walkthroughs before their walkthroughs. Still, Gilmore’s mission was made clear from the start of the short week: wherever Mike Evans goes, so do you. That’s just what the former Bills corner had been waiting for.
“It felt good,” he told me about being given the assignment. “The coaches had a great game plan. When I’m on a guy and locked into him, I’m pretty good.”
His voice trailed off for a second but Gilmore wanted to be clear, “I didn’t just play good, my teammates helped me out. They played good around me. The “D” line got to him [Jameis Winston]. I played aggressive. We all played aggressive.”
Gilmore came to Foxboro with a reputation as being a press-man corner. He hadn’t gotten much of an opportunity to do that through the first four weeks of the season, and on the occasion he did, the results didn’t back up his past reputation.
In fact, it was an illegal hands to the face late in Sunday’s game versus Carolina that wiped out a key third-down sack and eventually led to the Panthers’ winning field goal. Gilmore didn’t get to play straight cover-1 vs. the Bucs, but even when the Patriots went zone, he still traveled with Evans. Evans finished with five catches on eight targets, although one of those grabs appeared to be safety Pat Chung’s responsibility. All in all, the night qualified as a win, both for the Patriots and Gilmore.
“You have to find it, you have to recover and prove yourself in this league each and every week,” said Gilmore. “I think I did that this week but I know I - we - have to do it again next week or people are going to talk again.”