Big-play breakdown: Gilmore knew Parker's route before he ran it


Big-play breakdown: Gilmore knew Parker's route before he ran it

FOXBORO -- Stephon Gilmore understood what he'd be getting. He'd seen it on film before. Heck, he'd seen it earlier in the game.

With 16 seconds remaining in the first half on Sunday, the Dolphins came to the line of scrimmage with five receivers split out wide and a chance to cut an 11-point Patriots lead to four. Gilmore aligned across from DeVante Parker, knowing all along what route Parker would be running.

It was all thanks to the film study, Gilmore said later. He recognized the formation. He understood how Parker fit into the formation and what the tendency was for receivers working from that spot. As a result, Gilmore put himself in position to make his second interception as a member of the Patriots, "a huge play -- no question -- a big momentum play," according to Bill Belichick. 

It was arguably the most important singular play in the 35-17 win for the Patriots. From Gilmore's perspective, here's how it all went down . . .

With three receivers to the left side of the formation, the Patriots matched the Dolphins with man-to-man coverage. Gilmore took Parker, the second receiver to quarterback Matt Moore's left, and he knew that Parker would be running a fade to the back corner of the end zone.

"I knew," Gilmore said. "His position in that formation, I mean, that's the only route he runs."

Gilmore added: "I just knew the route from film study. They ran that same exact route in the first quarter, and they just flipped the formation."

Two steps into Parker's route, Gilmore had already turned and started running. He knew he was going to have to cover some ground, and he knew that Parker's size made him a formidable down-the-field jump-ball receiver. 

"I kind of looked at him and beat him to the spot," Gilmore said. "I turned my hips. I opened up before he even ran his route, and I was able to see it before him."

Gilmore pressed Parker at the line for much of the afternoon, holding the former first-round pick to one catch for five yards on three targets. On this play, though, he played about five yards off of Parker, and he didn't get physical with him. He didn't need to.

"I was pressing him the whole time, and he couldn't get off the press," Gilmore said. "I saw it a couple times on film. He struggled off press. But he's a good deep-ball guy. He's got great size, he can make plays downfield."

To recap: Gilmore knew the route; he gave the receiver an easy release off the line of scrimmage; and then he beat the receiver to the spot, undercutting Parker as Parker made his move to the corner.

So did Gilmore bait Moore into making the throw in his direction?

"It's kind of baiting," Gilmore said. "A little bit. But I don't think it's baiting because he wasn't beating me. I think baiting is when you let him get in a certain area and then you go. I think it's just film study and a great play."

After Gilmore high-pointed the football and returned it up the field, he pulled himself off the turf and made an "X" with his wrists to let people know, "I was locking him up."

Gilmore was targeted three times in the game. Two of those throws were picked -- Duron Harmon yanked away from Gilmore what would have been his second pick of the game -- meaning Moore had a rating of 2.7 when throwing in Gilmore's direction. It was the most dominant of three solid outings Gilmore has put together since coming back from a concussion and an ankle injury that kept him out from Week 6 through the Week 9 bye. 

Gilmore insisted he isn't necessarily feeling more confident now than he was during the season's first month when the majority of Patriots secondary was struggling. Ask him and he'll tell you he's felt all along like he had these types of performances in him. It was only a matter of time.

"I'm always confident in my game," he said. "Everything not going to always happen how you want it. You keep faith, and you keep working on your game. I'm the type of player I am. It'll come out, you just gotta keep working in practice, making plays in practice, and it'll carry over to the game. 

"I just take the good with the bad. You've got to at corner. You're on an island. Any mistake you make, everybody knows. They'll say something. It's part of the position. You gotta have a short-term memory and be able to come back and fight."


Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

Patriots not taking the bait on potential bulletin-board material from Darnold...yet

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty knew where the question was going before it had even been asked.

"At his press conference yesterday," a reporter started, "Sam Darnold..."

McCourty laughed. He was already aware of what Darnold said Thursday. But he didn't want to be the one generating headlines ahead of Monday night's matchup with the Jets, reacting to something said at a podium by a second-year quarterback he'd soon be tasked with trying to stop.

"We'll see," McCourty said. "I don't have a comment on that right now. We'll see how it goes."

Darnold, fresh off his team's first win last weekend and AFC Offensive Player of the Week honors, didn't say anything that would be considered by an impartial observer as incredibly inflammatory. 

But these are the Patriots. They've long had a reputation of taking slights, real or perceived, and using them to their advantage. A little extra motivation never hurt. And it wouldn't be surprising if what Darnold said this week serves as fuel for his opponents.

"Their defense is good, they have been all year,” Darnold said of the Patriots. "But just like any team, they’re not unbeatable. So we’ve just got to go out there, find the weakness in the defense and keep working it. So that’s what we’re going to do on Monday night."

The word "weakness" seems to have been the one that struck a chord with certain Patriots when they were asked about it Friday.

"I wonder what that is," Kyle Van Noy said, shrugging his shoulders.

Van Noy was at the center of things the last time we found out that the Patriots latched onto an opponent's words in the week leading up to the game.

After Bills tackle Dion Dawkins suggested in Week 4 that the Patriots hadn't done anything in 2019 until playing in Buffalo, Van Noy said after his team’s win, "Just wanted to make sure Dawkins knew who we were."

The Patriots, of course, have the league's attention. They rank first in the NFL in scoring defense (8.0 points per game) and first in defensive passer rating (42.6). They are, in the eyes of many, the easy choice as the best defense in football right now. 

Still, Darnold likes his offense's chances. If they can get tight end Chris Herndon back, Darnold said the Jets can be "unstoppable." (Herndon is dealing with a hamstring injury and isn't expected to play Monday.)

"Right now, we're just missing Chris," Darnold said. “Once all the guys are back together, I think we're unstoppable as an offense -- or we can be.  

"It's just up to us and how we execute. It's really up to us how many points we score, I think. I think we're capable of so many points. With our offensive line, too, the way they played last game, with the way we've been running the ball and the way they've been protecting, sky's the limit for us."

Darnold's comments -- comments from a confident young quarterback who undoubtedly is trying to instill confidence in his team ahead of their biggest game of the season -- could be ones he comes to regret. 

Not that the Patriots wanted to suggest as much ahead of the game.

"I don't know," Stephon Gilmore said for his reaction to Darnold's "weakness" comment. "You can ask him that, I don't know."

"I hadn't heard him," JC Jackson said. "I'm not on the internet. I don't pay attention to what other guys say.  We just show up. We let our play do the talking. We're just gonna play ball. We ain't got time for the talking. We're just going to show up and do what we do."

Jonathan Jones said his reaction to Darnold saying what he said is, "to go back to the film to find what he finds and find it before he does, I guess." 

"There's always some plays," Jones continued, "that they're going to be looking at and say, 'Hey, we had them here.' They might not have completed it or targeted the guy, but we'll definitely try to find those plays and anticipate those."

"It's not really [a slight]. There's always going to be plays out there. I don't care how good you are. Whether it be the front disrupting him and the quarterback didn't have time to get through his read and make the throw. but there's always plays that we can get better from. Hopefully, we can find those corrections before he does."

The Patriots are near the top of the league in just about every defensive category, though perhaps the Jets will try to run the football as New England ranks closer to the middle of the pack in yards per carry allowed (4.2). 

But calling that phase of their defense a "weakness" would be a stretch, as interior defenders Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton have been among two of Bill Belichick's best players on that side of the ball this season. Their front seven is loaded with athletic and experienced linebackers capable of stopping the run as well.

Darnold probably felt as though what he said Thursday wasn't a big deal at the time. But he might not be familiar with the time-honored Patriots tradition of taking an opponent’s words and using them as a spark.

They'll take any morsel of motivation they get and gnaw on it until the clock strikes zeros. Using the word "weakness" when talking about a defense on a historic pace probably qualifies as more than a morsel. As would suggesting the Jets offense can't be stopped.

The Patriots didn’t let on that they were zeroed-in on Darnold’s comments Friday. But it would come as little surprise — depending on how Monday night goes, of course — if they later acknowledge those words breathed a little extra oxygen into the fire that’s burned under their defense through the season’s first month and a half.

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Architect of Colts' infamous fake punt vs. Patriots was at it again

AP Images

Architect of Colts' infamous fake punt vs. Patriots was at it again

Perhaps Denver Broncos special teams coach Tom McMahon knew the anniversary of the NFL's worst fake punt was upon us.

Why else would McMahon, formerly the Indianapolis Colts special teams coach, call for probably the second-worst fake punt on Thursday night in Denver's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs? 

Did he really think this (see below) would work?

Metaphorically, at least, haven't we all been Broncos punter Colby Wadman at one time or another?

Ben Volin of the Boston Globe pointed out that McMahon was also the mastermind behind the Colts' fake punt with a formation-never-before-seen in football that came four years ago today in a Patriots' 34-27 victory in Indianapolis.

That one left backup wide receiver Griff Whalen snapping the ball to safety Colt Anderson, all by their lonesome, with the rest of the formation yards away and not on the line of scrimmage, which led to a subsequent illegal formation penalty flag, but only after Whalen and Anderson got blasted by five Pats defenders.

Next time, McMahon draws up a fake punt, (if there is indeed a next time), his head coach might want to just go for it. It couldn't be any worse. 

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