Prior to the start of the season, New England Patriots defensive back Stephon Gilmore’s NFL peers voted him the league’s best cornerback and the 22nd best player in the league overall. In 12 games so far this season, the 29-year-old has proven worthy of those accolades: he has yet to allow a touchdown and is the best player on a defense surrendering a league-low 12.1 points per game.
Gilmore, who also has four interceptions on the season to go with 13 passes defended, is aware of how the rest of the NFL views him. “I feel like the film don’t lie,” Gilmore tells InsideHook before addressing a group of young men at a Massachusetts Boys & Girls Club as part of a partnership with Gillette. “I don’t like saying that, but the film don’t lie. So if you watch the film, you know that answer.”
While a boast — however humble — isn’t typical of a Bill Belichick player, it’s clear that Gilmore has embraced the culture he found in New England after signing a five-year, $65 million contract with the team in 2017 after starting his career with the division-rival Buffalo Bills.
Playing against the other team’s best guy, it brings out another side of me
“You work hard each and every day,” Gilmore says of being a Patriot. “You need to earn what you get each and every day. It starts over. Either you’re successful or you’re not, but it starts over the next weekend. Nobody cares what you did in the past.”
Gilmore, who was voted a first-team All-Pro for the first time last season, went 36-44 during his time in Buffalo and was ready to play for a coach like Belichick, an opportunity some players avoid like the plague.
“I like hard coaching,” he says. “You want to earn everything you get with a coach like him, because he’s the same way. You take it day by day. You work hard each and every day. And attack every day. And prepare each and every week. Do that, you’re going to be successful on Sunday.”
That success makes Belichick’s prickly personality and gruff manner all worth it. “He’s straightforward,” Gilmore says of his coach. “So that’s all that matters. I’d rather someone be straightforward than talk just to talk. He’s a great coach. He’s smart, very attentive to detail and he put his players in the best position to be successful.”
The same way he sought out the challenge of coming to New England to play for a demanding coach like Belichick, Gilmore has embraced the task of taking on the opposing team’s top receiver each week. Against three of the league’s most talented young wideouts — Amari Cooper, Odell Beckham and JuJu Smith-Schuster — he allowed just 11 catches and 130 yards combined.
“Playing against the other team’s best guy, it brings out another side of me,” he says. “Obviously they’re going to give me their best shot and I’m gonna give them my best shot. I just love it. I’m a competitive person and when you’re going against another great player, it’s your best against his best and whoever makes more plays is who’s going to win. That’s why you play the game — to be in those moments.”
Since joining the Patriots, those moments have included playing in three straight Super Bowls, and winning two of them.
“I had my career in Buffalo,” Gilmore says. “I think I had like three or four head coaches there and five different defensive coordinators. Here, it’s more comfortable. It’s allowed me to be in the same system and allowed me to play faster. And that’s why I am at where I’m at now.”
And where he’s at now is the clear-cut best pass defender in the NFL — even if he’d prefer that you say it.