Patriots

Patriots

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."

 

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