How Patriots' Stephon Gilmore knew to jump the route on his pick-six

How Patriots' Stephon Gilmore knew to jump the route on his pick-six

CINCINNATI — Stephon Gilmore knew what was coming. Or at least he had a very good idea. That much was clear. 

Gilmore made two picks in the third quarter of his team's 34-13 win over the Bengals, the second of which he took back for a 64-yard touchdown to make the score 27-10. Almost single-handedly, he buried a one-win team that was sniffing its second, down just three points trotting out for the second half.

"On the first, he kind of got me off the line, but I knew the route so I undercut it and made a good play," Gilmore said. "The second one, kind of knew the route, too. Was able to jump it. We had a blitz coverage so I knew our pressure was going to get there, and I was able to make a play."

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Gilmore had an idea of what to expect on those throws not because of anything the Patriots content team shot of the Bengals sidelines the week prior. That video, at least a portion of it, was broadcast by Fox on Sunday and showed the Bengals sidelines as substitutions were made.

What Gilmore studied in the days leading up to the trip to Southwest Ohio were routes. Route combinations. Concepts. Splits. Situations. Gilmore's anticipation on both of his picks was thanks to the film study he engaged in prior to Sunday, he explained.

"They gotta switch the play up," Gilmore said. "I won't say it was easy, but I knew the route. I trusted myself, and I was able to make a play."

On the game-changing interception-return, slot receiver Tyler Boyd aligned as the No. 2 (count receivers from the outside-in on both sides of the formation) to the field (the side opposite the hash where the ball is snapped), and he ran a quick out-route on first-and-15. Under pressure, Andy Dalton went for it.

"As soon as he threw it," Gilmore said, "I knew I was going. Just had to catch it."

The play, it turns out, has been somewhat of a go-to for the Bengals offense when they've been in get-back-on-schedule situations, trying to manufacture a manageable third down. (A play that goes for eight yards on first-and-15, for example, creates a more manageable second-and-7, which is more likely to lead to third-and-short.) 

In Week 8, Boyd was the No. 2 receiver to the field side on a get-back-on-schedule second-and-13 play. Similar scenario. Similar concept. 

There it was again in Week 5 — Boyd as the No. 2, running an out-route on second-and-long — helping the Bengals chip away at the Cardinals defense.

There it was yet again in Week 4, during a divisional matchup between the Bengals and the Steelers. It was second-and-11. Boyd was the No. 2 to the field side. And, despite the fact that it was a long throw, Dalton wanted to give Boyd an opportunity to make a play.

When Gilmore aligned across from Boyd on first-and-15 Sunday, he did so playing off of Boyd's outside shoulder. With a good understanding of what might be headed his way, Gilmore wanted to take away Boyd's path to the sideline. 

Boyd knew that Gilmore knew, and because Boyd knew the play was likely doomed before the ball was snapped, he awaited an audible call that never came.

"He (had) outside leverage," Boyd said of Gilmore. "He had perfect leverage on an out-route. We were running an out-route to the field with man coverage, outside leverage. Think it's going to be a pick?"

Boyd was also the intended target when Gilmore made his first pick of the afternoon.

"It was just one-on-one," Boyd said. "I won the majority of the matchups . . . But the two plays he made were great plays. He sat on the curl and played great leverage on the out-route. He was already in perfect leverage. We should have (called) a slant."

Boyd is just the latest receiver Gilmore has frustrated. He was targeted five times with Gilmore on him, catching only two for 24 yards. On top of the two interceptions, Gilmore also broke up a pass intended for Boyd.

Gilmore now leads the league with six interceptions, and he has a league-high 16 disruptions (breakups and picks combined). According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore has allowed only 46.3 percent of targets sent his way to be completed, which is the second among corners. His quarterback rating when targeted is 32.8, which is tops among corners who've played at least 60 percent of their team's defensive snaps.

With excellent speed, enough size to play physical man coverage, and the IQ to have a sense of what's about to happen before it does, Gilmore is putting together another All-Pro caliber season to add to last year's masterpiece. If he keeps it up, he might eventually be recognized as the league's Defensive Player of the Year.

Gilmore is on the kind of run that had him feeling thankful Sunday evening — thankful that Dalton kept throwing his way.

"They gave me an opportunity," Gilmore said. "If they don't throw it, I'm not going to make no plays . . . Appreciate it." 

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Patriots' Tom Brady gives strong Hall of Fame endorsement for this Steelers legend

Patriots' Tom Brady gives strong Hall of Fame endorsement for this Steelers legend

New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has played against many talented safeties in his 20-year NFL career, and few were better at the position than Pittsburgh Steelers legend Troy Polamalu.

Polamalu is among the finalists for the 2020 Pro Football Hall of Fame class. This is his first year on the ballot. The final vote will take place Saturday before Super Bowl LIV, and five of the 15 finalists will be selected for enshrinement.

Brady, who played against Polamalu six times, recently gave the safety a strong Hall of Fame endorsement in a statement released by the Steelers.

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“One key to success for a quarterback is to study a lot of film in order to understand defensive tendencies and know how the defense will try to defend everything you are trying to do as an offense," Brady said. "But that never worked against Troy. He was one of the most instinctive and disruptive players I have ever played against.

"Outside of his incredible athleticism, his greatest skill was his unpredictability. You could never quite get a bead on what he was doing, yet he was always around the ball. Troy was just a playmaker who you had to account for on every play. It was amazing to watch film on him and to try to understand how we knew where to be and when. If you wanted to find Troy, you just looked for where the ball was going and you would always find him.”

This type of praise from the NFL's greatest quarterback should bolster Polamalu's Hall of Fame case, which, even without Brady's comments, already was pretty strong.

Polamalu played 12 years for the Steelers, during which he appeared in 158 games and tallied 32 interceptions, 107 passes defensed, 783 tackles, 14 forced fumbles (seven recoveries), 12 sacks and three touchdowns. He also was a key member of Pittsburgh's Super Bowl-winning teams in 2005 and 2008.

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Patriots owner Robert Kraft offers perspective on Kobe Bryant's death

Patriots owner Robert Kraft offers perspective on Kobe Bryant's death

Robert Kraft was just miles away from Kobe Bryant when the Los Angeles Lakers legend was killed in a helicopter crash Sunday.

The New England Patriots owner was in Los Angeles to attend the 2020 GRAMMY Awards at the Staples Center, which Bryant called home for 20 NBA seasons.

Shortly after news broke that Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others died in a helicopter crash near Calabasas, Calif., Kraft offered his thoughts from the red carpet of the GRAMMYs.

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"I'm just shocked," Kraft told CBS-2 in Los Angeles. "It makes us all realize how we can’t take anything for granted. Make sure you give a special hug and kiss to everyone who's dear to you.

"Seeing his beautiful little beloved daughter, (who) is 13, and I know the pride he took in her. Here we are at Kobe’s home in the Staples Center. I had a chance to see him in one of his last games here and he was such a gentleman and great competitor."

Kraft shared a moment with Bryant after that game and in 2018 invited the Lakers star to the Patriots' organized team activities.

Kraft said he received texts and emails from roughly 50 people in the wake of Bryant's death, which prompted the Patriots owner to share a moment of reflection.

"For those of us who are privileged to wake up every day in good health and you have good family around you: Make sure you give them a special hug and kiss today," Kraft said.

" ... Everyone should just step back and think and count their blessings."

Several of Kraft's Patriots players, including quarterback Tom Brady and wide receiver Julian Edelman, shared similar sentiments on social media after Bryant's death.