Foxboro - Stephon Gilmore, 28, is soft-spoken, but he might have the biggest challenge of all Sunday if he lines up against the Los Angeles Chargers best WR Keenan Allen. Gilmore has consistently covered the other team's best receiver and performed well except when he lined up against Tennessee Titans WR Corey Davis, who had seven catches for 125 yards, when the Pats lost to the Titans in Novemher.
Gilmore was the only Pats player named to the first-team All-Pro in 2018. He deserved the honor, which was clear when the Pats lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers in December. Gilmore masterfully covered Antonio Brown, who despite his antics is still one of the better receivers in the NFL. This week the challenge is not any easier as Gilmore might be asked to cover Allen who finished with 98 catches this season and 102 catches in 2017.
"He's fast," said the soft-spoken Gilmore
Gilmore's voice is so soft-spoken that his answers are often inaudible to the media members interviewing him. Gilmore said he is happy with the first team All-Pro honor, but is focused on team goals.
"I am not going to lie and say it is not an honor, but I care more that the team does well," Gilmore said.
He signed a five-year $65 million contract in the 2017 offseason. Gilmore played his first five seasons in the league in Buffalo before leaving for New England. Last year, Gilmore missed three games and some questioned whether the Pats had made a mistake to sign him. His play was inconsistent, particularly at the beginning of the year.
That perception changed when Gilmore knocked away a Blake Bortles pass at the end of the 2017 AFC Championship Game that ended any hope of a Jacksonville Jaguars comeback. Chargers coach Anthony Lynn, who coached Gilmore in Buffalo, said Gilmore looks like a different player than a year ago. Gilmore now understands the increased work ethic needed to be a Pats player.
"He’s improved if you ask me. I know Stephon, know him very well. I thought last year, his first year there, he was kind of making his way through from maybe being in a different organization and this year, watching the tape, he looks like a completely different man. He looks lighter to me, he’s quicker on his feet, his coverage is tight, he’s physical. He’s a top corner in this league,“ Lynn said on the conference call with the New England media.
This year Gilmore is playing at an elite level. It would be hard to find five better corners in the NFL than Gilmore who called Lynn "my guy." Gilmore dismissed notions that he was not good last year. Gilmore has a strong secondary group with which to work this year. J.C. Jackson is an improvement over Eric Rowe at the second corner position. Add in the veteran leadership of Jason McCourty and the Pats found strength at a position that might not have been expected in training camp.
Gilmore has unfinished business after the Pats lost to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl last year. Chargers QB Philip Rivers said it best.
"One of these eight teams (left) is going to win it," Rivers said.
Gilmore hopes that the Pats are the one team this year after falling a game short last year.