Stephon Gilmore Elevates Play to Send Pats to Super Bowl LII and Other Musings from the AFC Championship Game
Stephon Gilmore has been unfairly maligned this year for his play. Although Pro Football Focus has him graded as the No. 10 cornerback in the NFL Pats fans love to harp on contracts they deem gratuitous (“FIVE YEARS AND $65 MILLION?! WHAT COULD BELICHICK BE THINKING?!?!?”). Well, he was thinking Gilmore was the type of player that would show up when the Patriots needed him most. In the AFC Championship game, Gilmore was flying through the Foxboro sky to deflect a pass on 4th and Long, forcing a turnover on downs that immediately led to the Patriots sealing another trip to the Super Bowl. To pull a page out of Bill Simmons’ playbook and go cross-sports reference here, but Stephon Gilmore just pulled a J.D. Drew.
Drew was the last well-above-average player signed by a New England sports team that took a bevy of critiques while actually living up to his contract, but in an understated manner. Drew’s problem was that he was put on this earth to play baseball. Everything on the baseball field came naturally to him. Combine that with a great work ethic and you get yourself a gorgeous baseball playing specimen. However, Drew’s demeanor on the diamond was that of a robot because he digested the game like a cyborg. Being “A natural” (I always put that in quotations because “naturals” are usually the guys busting their butts harder than anybody else) has its downfalls. Nothing ever looks to hard for a natural when they are playing. Drew ran faster than most, hit harder than most, threw harder than most, and even read balls off of the bat better than most. When you are so in tuned with the game that everything appears easy… you make it look easy… and make it look like you are not trying that hard. For J.D. Drew, playing in front of the rabid Red Sox Nation, this was not a good thing.
Nobody complains better than New England sports fans. Look at some of the hackneyed articles that came out before the Patriots game against the Jaguars. HE IS BORED WITH WINNING!!! It is not just the writer that thinks this way, some fans actually agree with the sentiment (not the majority, but enough to be embarrassing). This used to be a region familiar with the kick to the crotch. Now it is a region so used to winning, winning can’t just be achieved, it has to be done with style. And if you are an athlete that does not do it with the prerequisite style, you will get harangued your entire time here… unless of course you make the most pivotal play on the biggest stage. Enter J.D. Drew and the $14 million grand slam.
Once J.D. Drew hit this grand slam, all of his sins were forgive. Forget the fact you were getting one of the best outfielders and eyes in baseball every time he was in the lineup. Forget he always gave it his all, and when he asked out of the lineup it was primarily because he felt he could not do that. That is being a team player. Yet in New England, J.D. Drew got excoriated for asking out of the lineup. But a first inning grand slam in Game Six of an ALCS? J.D. … my man. You. Are. Forgiven. No more talk about your contract. No more talk about your lack of emotion (“Did you see him fist pump rounding first?!?!”). No more talk about you not showing up when you are needed. You get a pass for life.
Stephon Gilmore? You get a pass for life.
Now with the superman-in-reverse deflection Stephon Gilmore has earned his $65 Million contract. Gilmore allowed just three receptions on five targets in the game against the Jaguars. Gilmore did get beat like a rented mule earlier on the drive, but just four plays later he shook it off to practically seal a victory for the Patriots. Stephon Gilmore… you just pulled a J.D. Drew and the region of New England thanks you for it.
Blake Bortles Channelling Joe Flacco Is Why Gilmore’s Heroics Were Necessary
Blake Bortles did his best impression of Joe Flacco over the last two games against the Steelers and Patriots. Normally, “Going Joe Flacco” would be the highest insult one could give, but Flacco is a different creature come playoff time. Apparently the walking meme (I honestly do not know why Bortles is called such, but hey, lets ride) known as Blake Borltes has the same capacity as Flacco. Bortles was wonderful against the Patriots. When the check-down was the only option, Bortles hit the check-down.
Not only did he hit the short passes, but the tell tale sign of a bad quarterback (throwing ever so slightly too high, too behind, or too low) was noticeable absent. Bortles was hitting guys in stride, allowing them to catch balls short of the line-to-gain and still get the first down. When Bortles rolled out right at the end of the first quarter and dotted a pass to Keelan Cole along the side line, Bortles announced loud and clear he had come to play. Even Bortles throw-aways were glorious. Nowhere close to inbounds, his throw-aways were roughly 10 yards out of bounds every single time. On the last drive he was good too. He got Gilmore napping on a back-shoulder to Dede Westbrook, and on the pivotal 4th Down pass, he read the pocket well, stepped up to avoid the pressure, and lofted a dime off of the wrong foot that, after every viewing, still seems like it was the perfect pass, but got beat by a perfect defensive play.
The Two Other Best Defensive “Non-Gilmore” Plays Were Made by Guys That Had Bad Games
- I tweeted before the game that James Harrison was going to come up with a huge sack late in the game that will swing the win to the Patriots. Not a bad guess. On 2nd & 10 right before the two-minute warning, Harrison looped off of the right (defensive) side of the line, immediately swatted the left tackle’s hands out of the way and turned the corner to meet Kyle Van Noy for their Blake Borltes Kamale Krunch. Van Noy and Harrison jarred the ball loose to force a 3rd & 19 in which the Jaguars could never recover. It was a great play from Harrison who had some decent, and some iffy moments throughout the game. Harrison allowed T.J. Yeldon to get around the edge for 12 at one point in the game and was also late on zone drops. But when the Patriots needed an old school, “Meet at the Quarterback” pass rush, there was the oldest man on the Patriots defense coming through.
- Devin McCourty has had an uncharacteristically up-and-down season and the game against the Jaguars was no different. McCourty was little more than a speed bump on the numerous swing screens that the Jags executed to perfection throughout the game. He was also absent in run-force for the most part and missed some tackles, and yet, there were no deep balls over his head as he played centerfield. Moreover, despite some shaky moments from one of the NFL’s most solid safeties, McCourtey came up with the best Patriots tackle of the day. With the Patriots reeling thanks to a Dion Lewis fumble (on the coolest trick screen I have ever seen), the Patriots defense stood stout and forced a three-and-out. The Patriots were down 10 with 13:37 to go, needing a quick stop. Hello Mr. McCourty. Devin McCourty has always been one of the best tacklers in the NFL. You do not play in Bill Belichick’s secondary unless you can tackle. McCourty showed his tackling prowess on 3rd Down. Facing a 3rd & 8, Borltes slung a ball to the sideline a yard shy of the line to gain. Allen Hurns normally would have gotten the first, but McCourty came in like a bullet and executed a perfect tackle to hog tie Hurns short of the first.
The Jaguars Played to Win For Almost the Entire First Half… Then They Played to Not Lose
The Jaguars stormed into Gillette Stadium and acted as if they owned the place. They did own the place for most of the first half. However, their bugaboo this postseason had been allowing points after the two minute warning. They allowed a field goal to the Bills and a touchdown to the Steelers. The Patriots, one of the best two-minute warning teams in NFL history, did their thing against the Jags and punched in a touchdown on a 1-yard James White plunge to bring the score to 14-10 Jaguars. The Patriots kicked off and the Jaguars had 55 seconds and a pair of timeouts to at least try to add a field goal. Instead they chose to kneel.
Yes, under normal circumstances, with Blake Bortles in regular season form, the smart play would be to take a knee and take the lead into the locker room. However, this was not a normal circumstance and the accident prone version of Bortles was nowhere to be found.If you want to stare down the lion and beat him in his own den, you cannot show any fear, and the Jaguars showed just a touch of hesitation.You cannot try to slay the king with a bunch of paper cuts. You have to try to cut off his head.
Juxtapose what the Jaguars did at the end of their first half up by four against what the Eagles did against the Vikings at the end of their first half up by 14. With three timeouts and 38 seconds on the clock the Eagles drove 60 yards in four plays and got a field goal to push their advantage to 17. If you want to stare down the lion and beat him in his own den, you cannot show any fear, and the Jaguars showed just a touch of hesitation.
Danny Playoff Amendola
It is actually a misnomer that Amendola’s nickname is simply “playoff.” It should really just be “gamer” because he shows up for the big plays in the big games. Much like Gilmore, when Amendola first got the Patriots everyone complained that he was not what they wanted. He was not Wes Welker. Well… He is not Wes Welker. Amendola shows up in the big games (note: this is not a knock on Welker who is the best slot receiver of all-time, it is a simple point that Amendola seems to play better when the lights are the brightest). Whether it is Amendola making a huge third down conversion against the Jets in the regular season, or it is Amendola scoring touchdowns in the super bowl and immediately coming back to convert two-point conversions, Amendola gets the job done.
In the AFC Championship game he put together yet another unreal performance. All Amendola did was catch seven of nine targets for 84 yards and a pair of touchdowns. His catch on the go-ahead TD was stupidly good. The amount of body control it took to get that second foot down is not what normal humans (or normal wide receivers) are capable of doing… much less to erase a 10-point deficit in the final minutes of the AFC Championship game. While the touchdowns were awesome, it was his catch on 3rd and 18 that made it all possible.
After the McCourty tackle to force the three-and-out, the Patriots got the ball back with 12:03 to go down by 10. The drive started off well with an 18 yard gain to Brandin Cooks, but immediately stalled thanks to a 8-yard sack by Marcell Dareus and an incompletion. The Patriots were staring at a 3rd and 18… without Julian Edelman… and without Rob Gronkowski. But they still had Tom Brady… and they still had Danny Amendola. A four-man pass rush, with a great pocket, and a To mBrady missile for 21 yards later and the Patriots were in business. It does not seem to matter who is on the roster to the Patriots when the game is on the line; whether it is Edelman making one of the best catches in NFL history, Mike Vrabel turning into Touchdown Chris Carter on the goal line, or Adam Vinatieri doing G.O.A.T kicker things. The Patriots almost always seem to come through when they need it. Right now they need Danny Amendola… So Danny Playoff Amendola is what they get.