While public perception of the Pro Bowl has shifted towards the negative over the past two decades, the NFL’s all-star game still carries some weight — from being used as an argument in Hall of Fame debates (even though the fairness of this should be questioned) to the real-life consequence of bonus money being tied to the nomination. Consequently, being named to the Pro Bowl is still perceived as an honor by the players.
“It’s an honor to work hard and be recognized because sometimes you don’t get recognized,” New England Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore told reporters yesterday (via the Providence Journal’s Mark Daniels). Gilmore is one of only two Patriots to be named to the 2019 Pro Bowl, the team’s lowest number in a decade. But while quarterback Tom Brady received the nod for a record-tying 14th time, Gilmore is only headed to his second all-star game.
“It’s big, you know?” the cornerback said before adding that he still has to make sure he performs during practices and on game day (via NESN’s Doug Kyed). “[You] just kind of have to handle your business on the field. As long as your teammates respect you, that’s what really matters to me. It’s really an honor to get voted to the Pro Bowl, but that’s not going to help me this week to win against Buffalo. So, that’s what I’m looking forward to.”
As his answers show, Gilmore is staying true to the Patriots’ way of doing business: individual accolades are nice but ultimately it is about the team. And in order to put himself in the best possible position to help the squad, the 28-year old needs to stay focused on improving his craft — something head coach Bill Belichick apparently also told him when informing the cornerback about his Pro Bowl nomination.
“Bill called me,” Gilmore said about finding out from his coach. “[He] told me, ‘Congrats, get ready for work this week.’” That’s it — and it is Bill Belichick at his most Belichickean: on to Buffalo the journey goes. And the Pro Bowl cornerback, who originally entered the league as a first-round draft pick by the Bills, sees it the same way. “I’ve got a big game this week,” he said. “Going to the playoffs, that’s something I like doing, so we’ve got to handle our business this week to put a great future in our season.”
But while Belichick had a rather straight-forward approach when it comes to informing Gilmore about going to the Pro Bowl (unless, of course, the Patriots reach the Super Bowl), he further elaborated during a press conference yesterday. “Steph’s had a good year,” Belichick said. “I thought he had a good year for us last year. I mean, all players improve as they’ve been in the system longer. He was a good player when he got here [and] he’s had a good year for us.”
The statistics reflect how good of a season Gilmore is having. Pro Football Focus’ highest-graded cornerback this year has given up just 34 catches of 78 targets for a 43.6% completion percentage, 380 yards and four touchdowns. Combined with his two interceptions, the veteran is surrendering a passer rating of just 65.1 — a lower number than that posted by the NFL’s lowest-rated qualifying quarterback, coincidentally the one the Patriots will face this week: the Bills’ Josh Allen, who sits at 65.5.
With the Patriots close to locking up the AFC East title and a spot in the playoffs — a win against his former team on Sunday is all it takes — they need Gilmore to play his best in the playoffs. He did it last year and was arguably the NFL’s most consistent cornerback down the stretch. If he can duplicate his success, New England’s defense will be one to be reckoned with especially when it comes to stopping the pass.