Stephon Gilmore’s tenure with the New England Patriots didn’t get off to the best of starts, but the star cornerback had a stellar second half that culminated in one of the biggest plays of his NFL career: a pass breakup on fourth-and-15 against the Jacksonville Jaguars to seal the Patriots’ win in the AFC Championship Game.
With the Patriots and Jaguars set to play Sunday at TIAA Bank Field, Gilmore sat down with The Athletic’s Jeff Howe to discuss his diving deflection that sent the Pats to Super Bowl LII.
On the play, the Jags lined up with three receivers to the left, tight end James O’Shaughnessy on the right and Leonard Fournette flanking quarterback Blake Bortles in the shotgun. Gilmore was lined up on Dede Westbrook who was outside the left hash, and the corner knew that he would be on an island against Westbrook with safety help set to go to the tight end.
?I knew that,? Gilmore told Howe. ?It?s a long season. We ran that coverage a couple times. I knew the situation. With the situation I was going to be in, I knew I had to make the play.?
Westbrook ran an over route and Gilmore was prepared for it because he had seen the formation during the countless hours of film study he had done to prepare for the Jags’ offense.
?I don?t watch everything because I don?t like playing guessing games,? Gilmore said. ?I study the receivers, study how they get off the line, study the formation and anticipate. That?s the only thing you can do ? anticipate and rely on your technique. If (the offense runs) something else, you?ve got to be able to react.?
Jacksonville had lined up in a similar formation earlier in the game, but Westbrook stopped the route short. Gilmore, however, knew where this one was going with the game on the line.
?The formation, where (Westbrook) lined up, then I just kind of knew it,? Gilmore said. ?They ran it early in the game, the same route but he stopped. It was kind of the same route. I had seen it on film and was able to just make a play.
?It was fourth-and-15. He had to go deeper. I kind of knew where he was going. Playing corner, you know the down and distance, so I study that. The only thing you can do is kind of anticipate it, read his mannerisms of how he?s coming off the ball. If you anticipate the route and you know the route, it?s what you believe that allows you to play fast and make plays.”
Bortles was forced to step up in the pocket and lofted it toward Westbrook. As you now know, Gilmore stayed under the route and dove in front of Westbrook to knock the ball away and send the Pats to their second straight Super Bowl.
What was the South Carolina product thinking before making one of the most important plays of his career to date?
?Just make the play. Do or die,? Gilmore told Howe. ?I?ve got to be able to step up and make plays.?