Patriots

Stephon Gilmore has corrected his course with Patriots

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Stephon Gilmore has corrected his course with Patriots

FOXBORO -- Devin McCourty could barely wait for the question to finish before he started answering.

He knew what he wanted to say because he had lived it himself. At the root of the discussion was cornerback Stephon Gilmore and his improved play. The query was whether Gilmore’s early season struggles and adversity had actually proven to be a positive in the long run -- allowing the player to reveal his true character to a new locker room.

“I kind of look at everything similar to when I played corner here,” recalled McCourty in an almost empty Patriots locker room. “When you play corner, you already feel like you’re on an island by yourself and then when it doesn’t go well, you’re like, ‘[shoot], I am by myself out here.’ It gives you a very resilient attitude. I’m just going make my plays.”

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Gilmore has made his share over the last few weeks, looking very much like a player worth the resources the team invested in him. Sunday, he drew Miami’s DeVante Parker and made him disappear faster than the turkey and stuffing on Thanksgiving Day. Parker caught just one ball for five yards. The big receiver was also Matt Moore’s red-zone target just prior to halftime; Gilmore intercepted the underthrown pass like he knew it was coming. That’s because he did.

“They ran that route on us earlier in the first quarter and I knew they were going to come back to it,” said Gilmore. “Every time DeVante Parker is in the slot, he runs the seam empty so I just beat him to the spot.”

“It was a huge play. No question, a big momentum play,” said Bill Belichick.

McCourty had a front-row seat for the interception and watched Gilmore nearly snag a second before being “a team player” and letting Duron Harmon live up to his "closer" reputation and get the pick himself. The veteran safety smiled in approval at the memory and what he’s seen from the 27-year old corner since his tumultuous start to the season.

“He’s really played well for us the last couple of weeks, going out there and shutting down people has been big for us,” said McCourty. “I’ve been telling him this since he got here: 'You’re a good player and you’re going to keep playing good for us. Don’t worry about about what’s going on, what people are saying.' I think his confidence hasn’t swayed and I think that’s been a big plus for him to just go out and keep playing.”

Gilmore insisted over the first month of the season that his mistakes were not physical and that gave him reason to believe he’d eventually turn the corner. He owned up to those mistakes even if that confidence seemed a bit odd to the untrained eye. He agrees that there was a silver lining in those woes, that his teammates got a crash course in who he was and what he was all about, although to hear Gilmore talk, it makes it seem like it’s nothing new for anyone worth a damn playing cornerback. 

“Yeah, that comes with the position,” said Gilmore. “Anytime you’re playing corner, playing man-to-man, that one mistake you make everybody’s going to see it. I’m able to take that. I know how to take it and get better and better every game. I come out on top eventually.”

That’s not misguided. Gilmore is on the right track and now nods approvingly when asked if he’s playing some of the best football of his career. 

“Yeah,” he said, “I think I am.”

The adjustment period is over. Gilmore has stood up to Mike Evans in Tampa, Denver’s Demaryius Thomas, Michael Crabtree in Mexico City and now Miami’s Parker in front of the Gillette Stadium crowd. Those challenges would range from strong to quite strong and Gilmore has handled each and every one. But it doesn’t get easier here in the stretch run. In fact, now Gilmore must go back to where he spent the previous five years of his career and face an angry Buffalo fanbase that didn’t take to kindly to him leaving and his references to finally getting a chance to play in prime time and play for a winner. 

“I’m here now. I love playing with the guys. I have respect for what the Bills are doing; they have so many talented players on their team,” he said.

Pressed on what he thinks the atmosphere will be like, Gilmore only acknowledged that it will be “loud” but didn’t want to go any deeper than that, at least not yet.

That Buffalo fanbase is boisterous and a little bit wild. The parking lot pre- and postgame is not for the timid. Hell, the stadium can be nearly as bad. While Gilmore wasn’t willing to go there, McCourty would when I asked him about culture shock being a piece of what Gilmore went through during his first summer and handful of regular season games.

“If they lose and lose by a lot no one really cares,” said McCourty of Buffalo’s fans. “Here everyone expects you to win every time you’re going on the field. When you’re the new guy and it’s not going right, people want to point fingers. In any adversity, you realize these are your guys in the locker room and we never turned on him. Guys had his back. I think he felt that and knew that. A 16-game season is not going to go well all the time. You keep pushing, keep working, keep playing and eventually it will turn for you.”

Gilmore has made that turn. Now down the stretch they come. 

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Bill Belichick keeps Patriots defense humble through dominant stretch in film room

Bill Belichick keeps Patriots defense humble through dominant stretch in film room

FOXBORO -- Duron Harmon's postgame comments Sunday might've elicited a double-take or two. 

"We're getting there," he said. "We're getting there."

Excuse me? You're what now? Setting a Super Bowl era record by not allowing a rushing or passing touchdown through three weeks of regular season play seems to be a little better than "getting there." For the second straight week -- albeit against a hapless divisional opponent -- the Patriots defense did not allow a point. The numbers are laughable.

But to hear Harmon and the rest of the Patriots defense tell it, they still feel as though they have a lot of room to grow. They insist.

"Are we at where we're going to be in Week 9, Week 10? No," Harmon said. "We're still working through things. We're still working through disguises. We're still working through the coverages that we're really, really good at. We're still learning so much about ourselves. We're getting there, though."

Part of the reason Patriots defenders don't want to acknowledge just how thoroughly they've outclassed the opposition is because they have a coach who will let them hear about every last one of their mistakes in their Monday meeting regardless of whether they pitched another shutout or not. 

"If you ever sit in a Bill Belichick meeting, don't worry. He'll find it," Devin McCourty said when asked how the defense is finding areas to pinpoint for improvement when they've been dominating offenses. 

"We'll come in here tomorrow and he'll have it broken down. Whether it's run technique, whether it's pass-rush games up front, leveraging coverage, depth on the safeties on the half-field, on the middle. All of those fundamentals he'll have down. 

"When that film goes up on that board, you'll see the corrections at the top for each number, each guy out there. So you'll never have to worry about finding the corrections out there. He finds them and he knows football as well as anybody, so we take that to heart when we come in here. And I think one thing is we've just got to continue to get good at everything. You guys have seen it through the years. Defensively, we're always trying to be in different things and have multiples, so we've just got to continue to improve on all of those phases."

Going into Sunday, the Patriots were first in points allowed, second in rush yards allowed, eighth in pass yards allowed, third in sacks, first in interceptions, second in yards per attempt allowed and second completion percentage allowed. 

On Sunday they held Luke Falk to 4.5 yards per attempt, sacked him five times and picked him off once (Devin McCourty's third in as many games). The Jets only picked up 2.2 yards per play and 1.8 yards per rush. They were 0-for-13 on third and fourth-down conversion attempts.

And yet, Belichick will be quick with the corrections about 24 hours later.

"There's gonna be times," Jason McCourty said, "when you turn on the film and whatever call it is, 'This person [had] the wrong play . . . He didn't cover the guy he was supposed to cover.' There's always going to be things that he can put on the film. It's like, 'We screwed this up, we screwed that up.' 

"I think for us, especially as older guys and guys trying to understand where we're trying to get to as a defense, there's always going to be things to work on. I think you have to take that personal and look in the mirror. Whether you played well, whether you played bad, what can you improve on? How can I personally make this defense better?"

Sometimes, the answer is right there for you on the projection screen. Written out for all your teammates to see. Not hard to figure out. Belichick makes sure of it.

"Not at all when coach Belichick is your coach," Harmon said. "He's going to point out everything we didn't do well. He's going to highlight it. At the end of the day, you need that. We're hearing so much about how good we are and this and that. 

"But at the end of the day, it's Week 3. How can we improve? How can we take this defense to another level, another step, so that we can continue to win football games?"

Kyle Van Noy hasn't been afraid to tell media members in the past that the defense -- in an NFL locale where the offense has been the attention-getter for years now -- deserves some credit.

But even Van Noy would acknowledge they've gotten their share of attention after the three games he and his teammates have put together. Can't revel in it.

"Don't believe the hype now," he said. "Don't believe the hype. It's a lose-lose if I say something. You know what I mean? I've just gotta keep it at that."

If the players making up the Patriots defense can keep this up, it'll be a long time before they'll need to be their own best hype men. Instead, humility was a focus in the home locker room at Gillette Stadium Sunday afternoon. 

Just as Belichick would like it.

"It's good for people to notice your efforts," Harmon said, "But at the end of the day, we've gotta stay humble. We gotta stay with this grinding attitude that we've got right now. Because we know there are going to be some tough games. We've gotta make sure that we're humble. Locked in the same way each and every week with our preparation, our practice habits . . . If we do those things we'll have good showings on Sunday."

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Bill Belichick details how Patriots shut down Jets star Le'Veon Bell in Week 3 win

Bill Belichick details how Patriots shut down Jets star Le'Veon Bell in Week 3 win

FOXBORO, Mass. -- The New York Jets needed a great game from Le'Veon Bell to have any chance of upsetting the heavily favored New England Patriots on Sunday, but Bill Belichick's defense did a great job shutting down the star running back in a 30-14 win.

“Those guys played disciplined," Bell said. "We just had a lot of negative plays where we made a mistake. Of course, the running won’t look as efficient because we had a lot of negative runs, too. We had a lot of positive runs, we did our job on a couple plays. Sometimes we have got to stop with the negative plays and hurting ourselves.”

Bell was limited to just 35 yards on 18 carries (1.9 yards per rush). He's also one of the best pass-catching running backs in the NFL, but he managed to tally just four receptions for 28 yards Sunday. 

Belichick noted it took a team effort to stop a player as talented as Bell.

"Just good team defense. Nobody can stop him. You can't put one or two guys on him," the Patriots head coach explained. "You've got to do a good job of defeating blockers, staying in our gaps and then tackling. He's a great back. He's got tremendous balance, power, vision. It just takes everybody working together on that. Our players really did a good job of being disciplined and tackling."

The Patriots were able to stop so many of Bell's runs for little or no gain, and this ultimately put the Jets in a lot of third-and-long situations that were tough to convert against a New England defense playing at an extremely high level. The result was the Jets going an abysmal 0-for-12 on third down.

"There’s a few things in the run game that we got to clean up, that we got to give our guys a better chance on," Jets head coach Adam Gase said. "But we just didn’t give ourselves a chance. We can’t go third-and-10. We go third-and-10, we’re not going to convert."

The Jets enter their bye week at 0-3, and what began as a promising 2019 season now looks destined to end without playoff action for the ninth consecutive year.

"We got to look at a lot of things over this bye week," Gase said. "I mean, I never thought I would say, ‘Week 4 bye week, I’m glad it’s here’. But, I mean, we got to address some things. We got to figure out what’s going on. We’re not, we’re not in sync. We’re not doing a good job of working together. We’re kind of all over the place. So we got to get that fixed."

The Jets better get things fixed ASAP, because the Patriots might not be the only good team in the AFC East this season. The Buffalo Bills, who beat the Jets on the road in Week 1, are 3-0 entering next Sunday's showdown versus the Patriots.

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