Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore shuts down Cowboys' Amari Cooper in latest masterclass

Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore shuts down Cowboys' Amari Cooper in latest masterclass

FOXBORO -- New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore is the NFL Defensive Player of the Year.

Shut it down. Cancel the voting. We've seen enough.

It already was pretty obvious Gilmore was the league's top defensive player entering Week 12, and he provided another compelling batch of evidence to support his case in Sunday's 13-9 win over the Dallas Cowboys at Gillette Stadium.

Gilmore was matched up against Dallas' top wide receiver, Amari Cooper, in a battle that was going to be pivotal in deciding the outcome of the contest. The reigning All-Pro did his job, covering Cooper on 26 of his 30 routes and holding him without a catch on two targets. It's the first time Cooper has tallied zero receptions as a member of the Cowboys. If that wasn't impressive enough, Gilmore had a reception of his own in the form of a second-quarter interception.

Overall, the Patriots' cornerback allowed just two catches on five targets for 13 yards.

"It was fun," Gilmore said of his matchup versus Cooper. "I was just trying to get my hands on him every snap. The defensive line put good pressure on (Dak Prescott), and we stopped the run. The times he did throw it, I tried to make plays."

Cooper was unwilling to bestow much praise on Gilmore, pointing instead to the weather as the reason for why he wasn't involved much in the Dallas passing game.

Reporter: "Gilmore a little tighter on you than what you're accustomed to seeing the last couple weeks?
Cooper: "Not really."
Reporter: "Why do you think you only got, basically, two targets this evening?"
Cooper: "Because it was raining, I think. I think because it was raining. We didn't throw the ball downfield how we usually do or how we would have liked."
Reporter: "Is Gilmore the best cornerback you've played this season?"
Cooper: "I only got two targets against him, so it was really hard to tell how good (Gilmore) was."

The rain didn't help the passing attack for both teams, that's a fair point. But one of the main reasons why Cooper was only targeted twice was Gilmore blanketed him all over the field. Cooper was unable to create much separation from Gilmore, and that made it difficult for Cowboys quarterback Dak Prescott to throw against the league's top cornerback. It's not like the weather made the Cowboys abandon the passing game, either. Prescott attempted 33 passes. For only two of them to target Cooper, an ultra talented wideout who had averaged 7.7 targets per game entering Sunday, is pretty surprising.

The Patriots came into Week 12 allowing the fewest yards per pass attempt, the second-fewest pass yards per game and a league-leading 19 interceptions. It's the best pass defense in football, and Gilmore is the most valuable component of that unit. 

A defensive player hasn't won the Associated Press NFL MVP award since New York Giants linebacker Lawrence Taylor in 1986. Gilmore isn't going to win MVP in 2019, but it's pretty hard to find a player who's been more valuable to his defense this season. What he's doing against elite wide receivers is truly special, and shutting down Cooper was the latest example.

"Steph is the best corner in the league," Patriots safety Duron Harmon said. "He consistently proves it week after week. We put him on whoever and he goes out there and plays well We knew he was going to play well today, and he's a big reason why we won the game."

Patriots set impressive NFL record in win over Cowboys>>>

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Bills WR gives Patriots bulletin-board material after Tom Brady departure

Bills WR gives Patriots bulletin-board material after Tom Brady departure

Is the AFC East officially wide open now that Tom Brady is no longer a member of the New England Patriots? At least one Buffalo Bills player thinks so.

Bills wide receiver Isaiah McKenzie was ecstatic to hear the news of Brady signing with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That comes as no surprise, as the ex-Pats QB is an absurd 32-3 against Buffalo in his 20-year career and New England has won 11 straight division titles with Brady under center.

During an interview with WROC in Buffalo last week, McKenzie expressed his excitement about Brady leaving while giving the Patriots some bulletin-board material.

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“The Brady situation, I cheered,” McKenzie said. “He’s a great player. Our team is stacked. The last two years we’ve been giving him a run for his money, but now that he’s gone, it’s going to kind of be the Bills’ time to take over.”

McKenzie's confidence isn't unfounded. The Bills made a big splash earlier this offseason by trading for star wide receiver Stefon Diggs, giving Josh Allen another dangerous weapon opposite John Brown. With Brady and several other key contributors leaving in free agency, the Patriots may have their work cut out for them next season.

Bills general manager Brandon Beane sang a much different tune than McKenzie on Thursday, saying it's "funny and comical how people are writing off the Patriots in the AFC East." Still, it's safe to bet McKenzie's words will be remembered in Foxboro when the 2020 campaign kicks off.

Scott Pioli: Why Bill Belichick, Cam Newton are 'like oil and water'

Scott Pioli: Why Bill Belichick, Cam Newton are 'like oil and water'

At various points this offseason, the New England Patriots have been connected to some of the free-agent quarterbacks on the open market. And after they lost Tom Brady to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, speculation increased that they could add a veteran to compete with Jarrett Stidham and Brian Hoyer in the quarterback room.

One guy that has been mentioned quite a bit is Cam Newton. The 2015 MVP was released by the Carolina Panthers this offseason but has yet to sign with a team.

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Newton has been tied to the Patriots mostly by betting odds, which does make some sense. After all, Stidham is inexperienced and Hoyer has been an average-at-best starter during his time in the NFL. Newton has a history of high-level play when healthy, so perhaps he'd be worth the gamble for the right team.

But will the Patriots actually pursue him? One of the team's former personnel executives doesn't think so.

In a recent interview with Zach Gelb of CBS Sports Radio, Scott Pioli, who worked in the Patriots front office from 2000-2008, spoke about Newton's connection to the Patriots. And ultimately, he doesn't think that Bill Belichick and Newton would be able to coexist.

"With Cam Newton, the Patriots thing is interesting because I've heard a lot of people talk about that. In my mind, having spent as much time with Bill as I did, I don't see those two coexisting together," Pioli said. "The personalities and beliefs of how the game should be played and is played, it seems like oil and water."

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Pioli joked that the Patriots will probably go right out and sign Newton after hearing these comments. But he ultimately just thinks Belichick and Newton wouldn't mesh well.

"I just see them as being very different personalities and having very different approaches to the game," Pioli said. "Bill believes in football more than entertainment. Cam believes that football and entertainment are almost equal partners. And in this day and age, it is, but Bill has the soul of a football man. I couldn't see that one working out too well. And if I did, it would probably have to be for one season."

Pioli makes some good points and perhaps that is why the team hasn't shown a lot of interest in Newton so far. Given that the team seems to believe in Stidham, it probably wouldn't make sense for them to bring in Newton to compete for the job if they're worried about how he might fit with the team.

Patriots fans should have a better idea of what the quarterback room will look like once the 2020 NFL Draft comes and goes. The Patriots may take another young player at the position to compete with Stidham and Hoyer. If they do, that would likely fully eliminate the possibility of them adding another veteran quarterback, if that option isn't already off the table.