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Dominant performance against Giants shows why Stephon Gilmore is still the NFL’s high-water mark for cornerbacks

Related: 6 winners and 4 losers from the Patriots’ 35-14 win over the Giants

NFL: New York Giants at New England Patriots Greg M. Cooper-USA TODAY Sports

Shortly after Thursday night’s 35-14 victory over the visiting New York Giants, one of the best defensive players of his era took to social media to share his opinion about a member of the New England Patriots’ defensive backfield: Darrelle Revis, who helped the Patriots win a Super Bowl during his lone season with the club, called cornerback Stephon Gilmore “by far” the best cornerback in the league today.

He certainly looked that part against the Giants. Gilmore, who is in his third season in New England since joining the team on a five-year, $65 million free agency contract in 2017, allowed just one catch on six targets all day long and made numerous big plays. All five of the incompletions thrown his way, after all, were actively broken up by him while two turned into interceptions: one by the 29-year-old himself, another by teammate John Simon.

“He does it every day in practice and does it on Sundays,” said Patriots head coach Bill Belichick about Gilmore during his postgame press conference on Thursday. “He’s a very talented player and works extremely hard to prepare for the game, study his opponents and study the passing game that our opponents are going to run. This is a good example here on a short week of how diligent he works and it paid off. He’s done a great job for us.”

Belichick was not the only member of the Patriots organization to sing his praises about the 2018 first-team All-Pro following a standout performance against New York. Secondary and safeties coach Steve Belichick and fellow defensive back Devin McCourty also spoke highly about the soft-spoken Gilmore — with one aspect of their analysis standing out: his preparation in combination with his natural talent make for an elite mix.

“Steph really just loves the game, has a strong passion for the game and holds himself to a high, high, standard,” Steve Belichick said about Gilmore. “When he goes out there, he wants to be the best. He wants to perform at his best and he practices and prepares that way. I haven’t really compared him to anybody else, Steph’s his own guy; he’s his own player. He goes about his business his own way and it’s obviously been impressive so far.”

“His drive and the attributes that he has — speed, size, quickness, strength, play strength — all that stuff,” the younger Belichick added. “Just a natural feel for the game, trust in the players he’s playing with that everybody will be where they’re supposed to be. Not just kind of playing out on his own but using the help he has when he gets it. Playing within the defense and just executing his role and his assignments.”

So far this season, Gilmore has continued to play the shutdown role he held during the 2018 season — one during which he grew from one of the better cornerbacks in the league to arguably the number one player at his position, not just because of his essentially game-clinching interception in Super Bowl 53 against the Los Angeles Rams. Gilmore also was as steady a defender as any on one of the game’s best defenses.

2019 is more of the same. While the former Buffalo Bills cornerback does surrender the occasional catch, he is able to limit yardage while still making plays for the defense. The game against the Giants was a perfect example of that: he gave up a 9-yard catch, yes, but was able to erase whoever he was on from the game outside of this lone reception. The ability to do that makes Gilmore a valuable member of the Patriots’ secondary.

“He just works on his craft. If you follow him on Instagram, you’ll see he’s working on his craft in the offseason with Dre Bly. He does a ton of stuff — you know, practice field, he’s always out there repping, one-on-ones — like he’s doing all of that stuff to prepare himself,” said Devin McCourty about his teammate before digging a little deeper into his skill-set and what sets him apart from other cornerbacks in the league right now.

“I think he has a great understanding of route recognition, what guys are running, where their splits are. It’s been awesome just to watch him, especially a guy that comes into the system and learns the system. From year-to-year, game-to-game, he’s just gotten better and better and he’s a big help to our defense,” McCourty said — basically echoing the thoughts Bill Belichick and his son have about the former first-round draft pick.

“He does such a great job playing the ball and had some good breaks. That last play down the sideline was a really good finish where the receiver had the ball and he got it on the way down, but he had some great pass breakups,” said the head coach on Thursday, before Steve Belichick shared a similar opinion during a conference call on Friday: “He does so many things well it’s hard to just pinpoint one thing. His preparation and obviously the skill set that he has, it’s a pretty good combination.”

The man in question himself has a rather simple answer when speaking about the approach he and his teammates take: “We are just trying to play with good technique, play fast and let the players come to us and not force it,” Gilmore said in the locker room immediately after Thursday’s game against the Giants. “We are just trying to make plays for one another. It is not complicated, we just have to study more and play harder.”

So far this season, Gilmore seems to have studied and played pretty hard already. And with the most difficult part of the schedule coming up for the Patriots, the team will need to have him continue doing just that. If the past 2.5 season are any indication, he will.