Despite the sloppy conditions during the Patriots 13-9 win over the Cowboys there were plenty of good performances to take note of. The headliner was once again Stephon Gilmore who held Dallas' best receiver Amari Cooper to no catches in the game.
Since coming to New England in 2017, Gilmore has cemented his spot among the top cornerbacks in the NFL and his performance Sunday night was another master class.
"Steph studies the receivers and the passing game very diligently, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick said on his conference call with the media on Monday. "He’s very professional and has a great, I would say, passion for knowing everything about the players that he’s matched up against, player or players that he could be matched up against. He has a great deal of confidence and trust in other members of the secondary, other corners and safeties. When there are adjustments in calls to be made, he’s right on those as well."
The play of the night was Gilmore's interception, as he closed on the ball and made a spectacular leaping pick. It was yet another instance this season of the defense making a big play to set up points for the offense.
"On that individual play, it was obviously a great play," Belichick said of the timely takeaway. "His timing – that was one of the hardest catches. It would have been a good play for him to knock that pass down and he was able to extend and lay out and be able to complete the catch. That was an outstanding play, probably one of the best plays we’ve had all year."
Gilmore is having an MVP-type season but he's not alone in a secondary that features perhaps the best collection of veterans in the NFL. With a trio of versatile safeties who have played in numerous big games and against every type of offense there is, the Patriots give their back end defenders plenty of freedom to adjust their calls.
"Our safety group of Duron [Harmon], Devin and Pat [Chung], those guys have played together for so long and they have so much chemistry, trust and communication with each other that it’s really – they have a lot of freedom and flexibility to use the calls and use things that are available in our defensive system to their advantage when different situations present themselves," said Belichick. "Some of that could be in disguise, some of that could be to try to position ourselves better against a certain type of look or formation.
"We’re very fortunate that we have such a group of instinctive [players] and players that have great communication and ability to recall situations and get us in the best spot we can be in on some of those."
Gilmore wasn't the only standout from the win as rookie receivers N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers both chipped in. Harry's one catch went for the only touchdown of the game, while Meyers had four catches for 74 yards, including two third-down conversions.
It's been a long season of earning Tom Brady's trust but the quarterback was ready to lay some praise on his rookie pass catchers in his weekly appearance on The Greg Hill Show on Monday morning.
Brady loved Harry's strong week of preparation leading up to the Cowboys game.
"[N'Keal] just had a great mentality about it," said Brady. "We were banged up with Phillip and Mohamed and it just looked like those guys were gonna have to play a lot. And I think rather than feeling like 'Oh man, I haven't played much, and I'll be a little worried getting out there,' he really approached it like he had been there all season. Made a lot of good plays in practice. Improved on things he had done and that were corrected. I really love N'Keal's attitude."
Brady was also excited by Meyers' performance, he's been the only receiver to remain healthy all season long and is starting to stack some success.
"He's done a great job," Brady said. "He's come in as an undrafted free agent and made the plays he's made all spring and then made the plays he made this season. I think it's been so impressive. I can't say enough good things about Jakobi. He cares deeply about doing the right things. You love to have teammates like that."
How will it all fit together with Sanu and Dorsett back in the mix? It will be good for the team to not only have options for 2019, but developmental pieces that could be keys in the future.
"I think both those rookie receivers have answered the call," said Brady. "When you're put in that position and you don't have a lot of football under your belt and you're playing on a team that's competing for titles and do forth, there's a lot of pressure. Both those guys have embraced it. Julian's shown great leadership for the whole group. Hopefully it we get everyone healthy we can see what we can do."