The New England Patriots' silent assassin is starting to speak his mind.
Stephon Gilmore tallied four pass breakups and two interceptions -- one of which he returned for a touchdown -- in the Patriots' 34-13 win over the Cincinnati Bengals on Sunday.
Gilmore's dominant performance strengthened his case for NFL Defensive Player of the Year -- and caught the eye of Hall of Famer Deion Sanders, who called him up Monday on NFL Network.
Gilmore usually lets his play do the talking, but the All-Pro cornerback's quiet nature belies a confidence that came through in his interview with Sanders.
"When you ballin', that defense is ballin'!"@DeionSanders talked with @BumpNrunGilm0re after the he helped clinch a playoff berth with 2 INTs and one returned for a TD 🙌 (via @NFLGameDay Prime) pic.twitter.com/vFAGRo0UsD— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) December 16, 2019
"I feel good. It's year eight: I've seen a lot of football," Gilmore told Sanders. "I'm studying, and I'm covering the best guy every week. So, I'm in a rhythm.
"I'm just daring the quarterback to throw at me, and I'm just trying to make them pay."
Gilmore admitted after Sunday's game he knew what routes the Bengals were running on both of his interceptions. He certainly made Cincinnati pay, limiting Bengals wideouts to just two receptions on the six balls Andy Dalton threw his way. (We're looking at you, Tyler Boyd...)
"I'm studying the offensive coordinator, I'm studying the receiver I'm going against, and I'm believing what I'm seeing," Gilmore said.
"When you do those things, you prepare each and every week and you're going against the best guy, you know they've got to throw at you. And you study, and you make them pay when they throw at you."
The Patriots' defense has been historically good for the majority of the 2019 season, and while New England typically preaches a team-first attitude, Gilmore told Sanders he feels responsible for leading the unit.
"I put that on my shoulders," Gilmore said. "Every week playing against the best guy, you've got to really focus. ... Being in tight coverage, I've got to be in great shape, and that's my thing: I'm just trying to make them pay each and every play."
The results have been undeniable, as opposing quarterbacks have a laughably low 12.2 passer rating when targeting Gilmore this season, per The Athletic's Jeff Howe.
Patriots CB Stephon Gilmore is tied for the NFL lead with 6 INT, returning 2 for a TD. He’s been the closest defender on 84 targets and ZERO have gone for a TD, per @NextGenStats, the most targets without allowing a TD of any player in the NFL. A total lockdown corner.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 16, 2019
That's plenty enough evidence for Gilmore to talk that talk.