DENVER -- As he exited the field Sunday night, Stephon Gilmore sauntered over to a pack of Patriots’ fans located in the end zone, handed a young kid one of his gloves then jogged further down to do the same to another.
Their days were made. Gilmore then retreated to the locker room but not before flashing a confident smile and saying “that’s how it’s done.” Was he referring to the Patriots’ 41-16 win over the Broncos? Or was he talking about his own performance? Both fit the description.
PATRIOTS 41, BRONCOS 16
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In his first game back since Oct. 5 in Tampa, Gilmore played big-boy football. He drew Demaryius Thomas from the opening snap and basically covered the Broncos best receiver from start to finish, quieting Thomas for the better part of the game.
“I was on 88 [Thomas] the whole game so I felt good,” Gilmore relayed after the game. “I felt comfortable. Played with good technique a couple of times and was able to make some plays.”
This is the player the Patriots thought they were getting when they shelled out $31 million guaranteed in the offseason. A physical corner, with excellent cover skills and top-end speed. But the Pats defense had done quite well with Gilmore out with a concussion, with Johnson Bademosi filling in ably. Communication on the back end had improved by leaps and bounds and there was plenty of debate about how the Pats would approach the game in Denver with both players available. What they did was insert Gilmore back at left corner, let him get after Thomas and play all 63 snaps. Johnson who?
“I like going out there and covering a certain guy,” said Gilmore. “That’s one thing I like to do: get used to that guy, play physical and make plays.”
This was the plan from Day 1 of the game’s preparations, and in making that clear, the Pats coaching staff allowed both Gilmore and fellow cornerback Malcolm Butler to go deep into the film room and study every snap the Broncos have run this year. Butler didn’t have the kind of day he was hoping for, but Gilmore emerged confident this would be his - and the Patriots’ - night.
“We studied those guys,” he said. “We knew the majority of their routes. They switched up some stuff but at the end of the day we came out with the win so I was happy.”
Happy with his performance for sure, but also happy to be 7-2 and atop the AFC East. This is uncharted territory for Gilmore and brings out an easy smile.
“I’ve never been 7-2. It’s crazy. We just gotta keep it going. It feels good to win. I haven’t won in my whole NFL career. It feels good.”