MIAMI GARDENS, Fla. — In the 13th game of his rookie season, Stephon Gilmore intercepted a Sam Bradford pass and returned it 62 yards for a touchdown.
Or, at least, he thought he did.
A Buffalo Bills teammate was flagged for holding during Gilmore’s runback, wiping away what should have been his first career pick-six.
Seven years later, Gilmore is a first-team All-Pro, a Super Bowl champion and considered the NFL’s best cornerback by his peers. But he entered this weekend still seeking his first trip to the end zone.
His wait finally ended Sunday.
Early in the fourth quarter of the New England Patriots’ 43-0 decimation of the Miami Dolphins at Hard Rock Stadium, Gilmore stepped in front of a short Ryan Fitzpatrick pass on third-and-2 and took off, sprinting 54 yards untouched for a long-awaited and well-deserved score.
“I always wanted a pick-six,” said Gilmore, whose last touchdown came during his sophomore season at South Carolina in 2010. “I had one my rookie year, but they called it back. So I finally got on the board. It was a great play. I was happy to get in the end zone.”
Gilmore credited linebacker Kyle Van Noy with an assist on the play. Van Noy chipped Kenyan Drake to interrupt the running back’s route and prompt Fitzpatrick to try to force a pass to DeVante Parker.
“They did a nice job,” the Dolphins quarterback told reporters. “(Drake) kind of got hit by the defensive end, and it was 3rd-and-shorter. We were definitely going to go for it on fourth down, just in the situation that it was in the game. I tried to jam one in to DeVante rather than maybe just trying to run and get a yard, but being 3rd-and-short, I thought that I had to try to make some sort of play, and it didn’t work out.”
Added Patriots coach Bill Belichick: “(Van Noy) broke down the play and kind of broke down the timing of it and then Steph made a real good break on the ball and finished it off. It was a good play. It was a similar play to (the one) he had in the Super Bowl.”
Van Noy was the first player to celebrate with Gilmore, hoisting the cornerback onto his shoulder after he crossed the goal line.
“It felt good,” Gilmore said. “Kyle Van Noy kind of hit him, made (Fitzpatrick) throw it quick, and I was able to break on the ball and make a good play and get the ball in the end zone.”
Gilmore also had a hand (literally) in another Patriots interception, leaping to tip a Fitzpatrick pass into the arms of safety Devin McCourty.
The Patriots’ other two picks came courtesy of linebacker Jamie Collins, who returned one 69 yards for a touchdown minutes after Gilmore’s and then snagged a Josh Rosen pass on the game’s final play.
The Patriots’ defense also broke up seven additional passes, sacked Fitzpatrick and Rosen seven times and posted its first shutout since 2016. New England has not allowed a touchdown since last season’s AFC Championship Game, holding the Los Angeles Rams, Pittsburgh Steelers and Dolphins to six total points.
“We’ve got special guys,” Gilmore said. “We’re just playing for each other. We’re having fun. If something doesn’t go well, we try to correct it. We’re just playing for each other and having fun and trusting each other.”
Thumbnail photo via Jasen Vinlove/USA TODAY Sports Images