Bill Belichick puts Stephon Gilmore in class with Ty Law, Aqib Talib as corners whose input is valued

Bill Belichick puts Stephon Gilmore in class with Ty Law, Aqib Talib as corners whose input is valued

FOXBORO -- Line 'em up. Knock 'em down.

That's been life for Stephon Gilmore over the course of the last several weeks. He's been given the assignment of covering the opponent's top wideout -- not always exclusively, but oftentimes close to it -- and played like one of the top corners in football. If not the top corner.

Gilmore held Green Bay's Davante Adams to two catches and 15 yards on four targets on Sunday night. The week prior, he gave up two catches to Buffalo's Kelvin Benjamin on seven targets. On four targets in coverage of Chicago's Allen Robinson, Gilmore held Robinson without a catch and he broke up a pass. On a night when the Chiefs put up 40, Gilmore limited Sammy Watkins to two catches and 18 yards on four targets.

Gilmore is now the top-graded corner in football, according to Pro Football Focus. Since Week 3, Gilmore has allowed a quarterback rating of 46.8 on passes thrown his way, which ranks fourth in the league.


“He’s definitely the best corner in the league this year,” Jason McCourty told Patriots Insider Tom E. Curran recently.

"I'll let everybody else say that," Gilmore said. "I just kinda like to focus on each week because I've found out at corner you gotta really focus on each week. You can't get caught up in last week. No matter who you're going against this week, it starts over. You gotta really focus on each and every play, getting better. Going against somebody different this week and I gotta prove myself this week."

Bill Belichick said on Wednesday that when he's determining the best way to deploy his defense, he values conversations with Gilmore the way he valued conversations with some of the other shut-down corners he's had during his years with the Patriots.

"Yeah, of course. Yeah, sure," Belichick said. "I mean, look, I have a ton of respect for Stephon. He’s covered and played against a lot of guys in this league. I mean, he’s willing to do whatever you ask him to do. I don’t think it’s a question of that. But yeah, you talk to those guys when you talk about matching them up – Ty [Law] or [Aqib] Talib or Gilmore, guys like that. 

"You know, ‘How do you feel about certain guys?’ Because, again, playing against them is one thing, but how a particular player plays against them and what do you feel good about on the matchups or anything you’re worried about. You know, and then they tell you and sometimes that helps you how you want to defend them. 


"Do they feel like they need help over the top? Do they feel like they need help underneath? Do they not feel like they need it? Those guys are pretty honest -- at least they have been through the years I’ve coached them. I mean, those are guys like that. Gilmore, Law, Talib. Those guys certainly fell into that category. They’d say, ‘Look, I don’t need any help on this guy.’ Then alright, great."

Gilmore isn't the most outspoken player in the Patriots locker, and he's not necessarily knocking down the doors of anyone's offices at One Patriot Place to suggest scheme or technique changes, but he appreciates those moments when coaches come to him with an idea or a question about a particular matchup.

"Most of the time we have the same thought," he said. ". . . We've got great coaches here and most of the time, the stuff they say is what happens. They wouldn't tell you nothing that would put you in a bad position so I listen to it and just try to make plays."

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.


A little bitterness went a long way for key Titans

A little bitterness went a long way for key Titans

It all seemed so friendly and respectful last week. Even the former Patriot/current Titan who could have been bitter – Malcolm Butler – uttered nothing but benign words in the runup to Sunday.

Made sense, though. Who among the Titans had an obvious reason to be pissed at the Patriots and Bill Belichick?

Mike Vrabel’s track to becoming a head coach was accelerated because of his time spent under Belichick in the ‘00s. Cornerback Logan Ryan got paid. Dion Lewis got paid. Butler got paid.

So what if they had to go to Tennessee to have it happen? They started on the path to becoming financially secure for the rest of their lives when Belichick and the Patriots put their hand on their shoulder and said, “Won’t you join us?”

But we underrated the sting of having to go someplace else.

We ignored the fact that, in a cutthroat profession where mining for motivating slights is a pastime, several Titans had a pocketful of them and their teammates were happy to draft off their irritation.

How would it have looked with Shaq Mason and Gronk? Would it have been a beatdown with a full-go Sony Michel and Marcus Cannon? What if Trent Brown didn’t have gastrointestinal distress and the Patriots wore cleats that didn’t slip?

It might not have looked that different.

Sometimes, all it takes is one guy to be pissed off at the opponent to get everyone else going. (Example: Lawyer Milloy in the 2003 season opener at Buffalo).

The Titans had about six guys with axes to subtly grind.

There was Dean Pees, fired in early 2010 after the Patriots-Ravens playoff game debacle. The 69-year-old Pees went to the other side immediately and was Baltimore’s linebackers coach for two seasons.

He was elevated to defensive coordinator in 2012 and when the Ravens beat the hell out of the Patriots in the second half of the 2012 AFC Championship, they did so in part because Pees was able to neutralize the Patriots up-tempo offense that undressed teams like the Texans.

Vrabel got traded to the Chiefs in 2009 and, as he explained last week, he didn’t talk to Belichick for about a year.

Lewis’ irritation, which on the surface is hard to understand since the team rescued him from oblivion, dates back to the summer of 2017 when he was buried on the depth chart behind Rex Burkhead. When the season ended and Lewis was a free agent, the Titans anted up and the Patriots re-upped with Burkhead for way less than the Titans are paying Lewis.

Ryan surely would have preferred staying with the Patriots and his Rutgers family. Butler got put through the wringer for two seasons with the Super Bowl cherry on top.

These things happen.

In Week 3, the Lions – who don’t even seem to like Matt Patricia that much – beat the hell out of the Patriots and (not coincidentally) held the Patriots to 10 points like Tennessee did.

In 2010, the Patriots got demolished in Cleveland by head coach Eric Mangini and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll 34-14.

In 2009, they lost at Denver 20-17 to rookie head coach Josh McDaniels.

So it’s on us for soft-peddling the bitterness factor in this one. You have to pay attention to history.

Speaking of history, how have the Patriots performed after these “Bitterness Bowls”?

This year, they reeled off six straight wins after the loss to the Lions and averaged 35.5 points per game.

The 2010 Patriots won their final eight after losing at Cleveland including a win over the Steelers the following week and finished 14-2.

The 2009 Patriots outscored their next two opponents 94-7 after the McDaniels Game.

And the week after the loss to Buffalo back in 2003, after ESPN’s Tom Jackson told the country that the Patriots “hate their coach”, New England went out and sacked Donovan McNabb eight times, picked him off twice and forced him to go 18 for 46 in a rout of the Eagles.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.


Titans manhandle punchless Patriots offense

Titans manhandle punchless Patriots offense

A bad mix of circumstances led to an ugly offensive performance by the Patriots on Sunday.

There were injuries – tight end Rob Gronkowski and right guard Shaq Mason didn’t play while tackles Marcus Cannon and Trent Brown were dinged during the game.

That led to spotty protection of Tom Brady who was unnerved by the pressure early and spent a lot of the day throwing wild and ducking for cover as he went 21 for 41 for 254 yards and no touchdown passes, his third straight game without a TD pass.


The Patriots running game was ineffective against Tennessee’s very solid front-seven which meant too many second and third-and-longs which only increased the pressure Brady was feeling.  

And then you had a defensive game plan hatched by a coordinator - Dean Pees - and head coach - Mike Vrabel - who knew exactly what could make life difficult for the Patriots.

Press at the line of scrimmage, attack sideways throws aggressively and limit opportunities for catch-and-run yards after dumpoff passes.

James White, who’s been such a weapon this season, caught five passes for 31 yards on eight targets. The Titans made a priority of limiting him by making sure that he had plenty of company every time he caught it.

Josh Gordon wound up being the most-frequently targeted player. Brady went to him 12 times but only completed four. One of those eight incompletions was a pure drop by Gordon in the first quarter. Another was a catchable ball that went through his hands. But there were other Brady misfires in his direction.


In the second quarter, Brady – afforded great protection – directed Gordon across the end zone. But when he wound up to deliver the ball, it landed around the 10-yard line. There was also a sideline throw that saw Gordon slip as Brady delivered the ball. But even as Gordon straightened up, the ball wobbled well over his head and out of bounds. Gordon didn’t provide great returns on contested catches either.

But Sunday saw Brady at his most jittery. Knowing the easy throws short throws weren’t going to be there because of the press coverage and aggressiveness, Brady had to hold it longer to let things develop downfield and he clearly didn’t have confidence he was going to get the time he needed for that. The result? A poor day for accuracy and an impotent day throwing to everyone except for Julian Edelman, who wound up with nine catches on his 12 targets and 104 receiving yards.

Edelman left the game in the second half with a foot injury which – given his impact the past two weeks – is a big concern going forward.

Click here to download the new MyTeams App by NBC Sports! Receive comprehensive coverage of your teams and stream the Celtics easily on your device.