The Dallas Cowboys headed into their Week 12 meeting with the New England Patriots as one of the most productive offenses in football, and wide receiver Amari Cooper certainly played his part in that: the former fourth overall draft pick, who started his career with the Oakland Raiders before getting traded to Dallas last season, had 56 catches for 886 yards and seven touchdowns on his 2019 résumé.
He still has the same numbers leaving Week 12. After all, Cooper had one of the worst days of his career against the Patriots. Primarily being matched up with cornerback Stephon Gilmore, the 25-year old saw only three passes thrown his way by quarterback Dak Prescott, and the results were obviously not what Dallas was hoping for:
- Pass intended for Cooper intercepted by Gilmore
- 15-yard completion negated by offensive holding penalty
- 20-yard completion negated by booth review
Those three plays were the only ones that directly involved the three-time Pro Bowl selection, and they ended in a grand total of zero catches and two turnovers: his first target was undercut by Gilmore and picked off, his final one forced Dallas to give the football up on downs after a 20-yard catch was ruled incomplete upon review. Gilmore was therefore able to essentially erase one of the league’s best wide receivers from the game.
“This was a great effort by Steph. He just works and prepares so hard for his matchups every week, and takes it as such a personal challenge,” said head coach Bill Belichick during his postgame press conference. “Steph’s as professional as they come. He knows the opponents inside-out, and his matchups and the overall scheme and how to best play based on what our call is, what the situation is and so forth. He does a great job of that.”
Gilmore’s season-long statistics show just how dominant he has been this year, and how he has a strong case as the NFL’s best player at the cornerback position: the 29-year-old, who was named the AFC’s Defensive Player of October, was targeted 49 times over New England’s first 11 games this season and surrendered only 18 receptions for a combined 220 yards. He also picked off four passes, and is giving up a passer rating of a mere 17.4.
“We put a lot on him to go out there and play,” said fellow defensive back Devin McCourty. “I think we put a lot on our corners in general to go out and compete against some of the better receivers in this league, and it’s no secret it starts with Steph. He goes out there, competes his butt off. Every time someone makes a catch on him, it’s going to be highly contested — they are going to have to make a great play. We count on him to do that.”
Gilmore certainly lived up to his status as the number one cornerback on the Patriots against Cooper and the Cowboys, by dominating from start to finish and shutting out one of the best wide receivers in football. If New England’s run of defensive dominance is to continue next week against the Houston Texans and their star wideout DeAndre Hopkins, the team will have to hope for a repeat performance by its tremendous defensive back.
Listening to his teammates and head coach, however, there is little doubt that he is capable of rising up to that challenge as well. And Gilmore himself also knows about the abilities he showed versus Cooper: “He’s good. He’s a good player, quick. He’s one of the best receivers in the league. But I’m confident in myself,” he said. “I put the work in every day, and I know what I can do.”