On Saturday night, the NFL handed out its annual awards and a member of the New England Patriots was among the winners: Stephon Gilmore was named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year after playing a pivotal role on the best scoring defense in the football. Gilmore became not just the first Patriot to take home the trophy since its inception in 1971, but also the first defensive back to do so since Troy Polamalu in 2010.
“It’s a great honor, it’s a blessing, it’s a lot of hard work,” the 29-year-old, who received 21 of a possible 50 votes, said during a press conference following the awards ceremony on the eve of Super Bowl 54. “Obviously, I couldn’t have done it without my teammates. But to be the first player in Patriots history to win Defensive Player of the Year... it’s a great honor. It goes back to OTAs, training camp. A lot of hard work. But it’s a great honor.”
Gilmore being named the NFL’s top defensive player for the 2019 season did not come as a surprise. After all, he was already voted to the first All-Pro team and the Pro Bowl and received numerous other accolades — from the Pro Football Writers of America to Pro Football Focus — for his outstanding play: the third-year Patriot was tied for the league-lead with six interceptions and surrendered just 33 receptions on 80 targets all year.
“Each and every week, I feel like I went against the best receiver every game and was able to shut him down as much as I can. That’s tough,” answered Gilmore on Saturday when asked by reporters about what he thought why he was chosen to win the prestigious award. “That’s tough when you’re playing on an island, when you’re playing a lot of man-to-man coverage each and every week. And I feel like I did that every week.”
The former Buffalo Bills first-round draft pick, who was signed by New England as a free agent in 2017 and has since put together an impressive résumé that also includes a Super Bowl title, indeed did just that. As a result, he has now accomplished something that not even Pro Football Hall of Fame defenders Andre Tippett, Ty Law or Mike Haynes were able to do: be named the league’s Defensive Player of the Year as a member of the Patriots
“The organization has been around for a long time. To be the first player to win it, it’s a great honor. It goes to show you if you work hard and dedicate to your craft each and every week, and believe in yourself, you can accomplish anything,” Gilmore told patriots.com’s Megan O’Brien shortly after winning the trophy. “It’s just surreal. It’s a great accomplishment, a great honor. It’s a lot of hard work I put in this year.”
“Couldn’t have done it without my teammates and great coaches, but it’s a great honor to win the award,” the NFL’s premier cornerback added. “You just have to put the work in. It’s not going to be easy, it wasn’t easy last year. You’ve got to start over each and every week and prove yourself every year. You’ve got to start over and put the work in and be ready to compete against anybody.”