What was Duron Harmon’s response to Stephon Gilmore becoming the Associated Press NFL Defensive Player of the Year?
“About time they gave it to him,” the New England safety said this week on Patriots Off Topic with Angelique Fiske and Mackenzie Knoop. “I think he wrapped it up – I think it was the Cincinnati game.”
Against the Bengals on Dec. 15, Harmon saw his teammate in the secondary intercept two passes and return one for a touchdown from 64 yards out. He saw Cincinnati wideout Tyler Boyd log a pair of receptions for 24 yards on six targets when covered by Gilmore.
Harmon recalls the flight home from Paul Brown Stadium after what was a 34-13 Patriots victory. The 29-year-old Rutgers product sat in the company of defensive tackle Lawrence Guy, cornerback Jason McCourty as well as safety and captain Devin McCourty.
“I just remember being on the plane … and I was like, ‘Stephon really might win Defensive Player of the Year,’” Harmon said. “Dev looked at me, and I’ll never forget this, he was like, ‘Might? He just won that thing today.’ I was just like, ‘You know what? You are absolutely right.’”
Gilmore, 29, finished 2019 with Pro Bowl and first-team All-Pro honors. He finished it as Pro Football Writers of America’s Defensive Player of the Year. And, on the eve of Super Bowl LIV, he finished it as the first Patriots player to be named AP NFL Defensive Player of the Year.
Gilmore would be the sixth cornerback to take it home dating back to 1971, joining Mel Blount, Lester Hayes, Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders and Charles Woodson with 21 of 50 votes.
“I mean, he had a phenomenal year,” said Harmon. “What he did week in and week out, covering the best receivers, literally locking down an entire side. Just being able to depend on that, not only as a safety but as a defense and as a team, he made a lot of people’s jobs a lot easier. If you just take into account what he did over the course of the year, I think it was no question that he was the best defensive player. It was a privilege to go out there and not only play with him, but to witness that.”
Gilmore led New England’s top-ranked defense in snaps and defensed 20 passes for the second consecutive season. The former South Carolina Gamecock and Buffalo Bill tied for the league lead with a career-high six interceptions while holding opposing quarterbacks to a completion rate short of 50 percent.
“To see what it took for him to get there, to see all the sacrifice – people don’t see him coming here every day at 6 a.m., being one of the last guys to leave, being one of the first guys on the practice field and being one of the last guys off,” added Harmon, who intercepted three passes of his own by January. “He put a lot of time into it, and that’s the reason why he’s the Defensive Player of the Year.”