Here we are. The Top Two. Just one more after this one, and yet another offseason countdown is in the books. Wild.
The list so far:
20. The Patriots draft N’Keal Harry.
19. The Patriots trade for Mohammed Sanu.
18. Josh Gordon breaks three tackles to score the first Patriots touchdown of the 2019 season.
17. The kicker carousel.
16. A Kyle van Noy scoop and score ices the game against the New York Giants.
15. The refs screw the Pats out of not one, but two touchdowns against the Kansas City Chiefs.
14. The Patriots play the Jets twice - and the defense shuts them out twice.
13. The Patriots force four interceptions as they dominate the Cincinnati Bengals and secure a playoff spot.
12. Julian Edelman hits Philip Dorsett in the end zone to help lift the Patriots over the Eagles.
11. N’Keal Harry scores his first NFL touchdown with a back shoulder grab against the Dallas Cowboys.
10. The Patriots force three turnovers on three straight plays against the Cleveland Browns.
9. Tom Brady becomes the 2nd All-Time passing yards leader in a Week 6 win over the New York Giants.
8. The Patriots sign Antonio Brown.
7. Rex Burkhead finds some nice redemption with the go-ahead touchdown against the Buffalo Bills to clinch the AFC East
6. Lawrence Guy manages to intercept a handoff in a game against the Cleveland Browns.
5. Stephon Gilmore and Jamie Collins pick sixes highlight an absolute beatdown of the Miami Dolphins.
4. Linebacker turned fullback Elandon Roberts turns his first NFL reception into a 38 yard touchdown against the Miami Dolphins.
3. A blocked punt leads to Matthew Slater’s first NFL touchdown against the Buffalo Bills.
I struggled a lot with the order in which I placed One and Two, as what ultimately landed in the runner up spot is definitely more impressive than what’s coming at Number One. But I ultimately just couldn’t switch them out, for reasons I’m hoping will ultimately become clear. But make no mistake: the Number Two Most Memorable Patriots Moment of 2019 is as awesome as it gets.
2. Stephon Gilmore wins Defensive Player of the Year.
We all know how rare it is for the Patriots to make a big splash in Free Agency. They very much prefer to let the initial frenzy die down, allow teams to overpay for big names, and then find value in the later days that fill needs, fit the system, and help build a team. It’s not the sexiest way to approach roster dynamics, but the track record speaks for itself.
So when the Patriots went out and signed Stephon Gilmore to a five year, $65 million contract in early March of 2017, nobody knew what was going on. This wasn’t how New England did business, especially considering they had a young DB core led by Super Bowl phenom Malcolm Butler already on the roster. Not only that, but Gilmore was getting and $18 million signing bonus and $31 million guaranteed. Opinions on the signing were, as usual, varied; everything from “Belichick just got an elite corner” to “Belichick once again overpaid for talent” dominated the airwaves. Even the diehard Pats homers weren’t sure what to think; I mean yeah, Gilmore wa solid, but $65 million solid? Really?
And for those first few games of 2017, it looked like the naysayers were right. Blown assignments. Missed reads, Killer penalties. A concussion that kept him out of three games. He seemed to be having trouble picking up the defensive schematics, and it wasn’t long before the dreaded B Word once again reared it’s ugly head.
Gilmore got it together, though; he settled in, and by the end of 2017 he had logged a career high 50 tackles to go along with two picks in his first 13 games as a Patriot. Not a bad season, but not what one would expect from a contract of his size.
Cut to 2018.
16 game starter. #1 corner. Shutdown after shutdown of elite receivers. 20 passes defensed. PFF’s highest graded QB in the league.
Oh - and this.
Whatever was plaguing Stephon Gilmore early in his Patriots tenure was gone. The Pats had a bona fide stud at corner who lived up to his contract and then some, highlighted by a pick that more or less sealed another Super Bowl for the Patriots.
Cut to 2019, where Gilmore anchored the best secondary in football. He recorded a 50 yard pick six in Week Two against the Miami Dolphins. He held Daniel Jones to a 0.0 passer rating when targeting receivers Gilmore was assigned to. He held Amari Cooper to zero catches. Two picks, including a pick six, against Andy Dalton. He didn’t allow a single touchdown until Week 16 of the season. He finished the year with 53 tackles, 20 passes defensed, and a league-leading six interceptions, two of which were returned for a score. He was hands down the best corner in the league in 2019, and he completely changed the way opposing offenses approached attaching the Patriots.
On February 1st, 2020, Gilmore was named the Associated Press Defensive Player of the Year. He was the first member of the Patriots to receive the award and just the sixth cornerback since DPOY was given out all the way back in 1971. There was no controversy about it, either; almost everyone completely agreed with the selection.
The DPOY Award is always vastly overshadowed by the award that, for some reason, gets all the acclaim in the NFL MVP. It’s an award we as Patriots fans are quite familiar with; after all, Tom Brady has three of them in his trophy case, crammed somewhere behind his six Lombardi Trophies. But in my personal opinion, the NFL MVP Award is wildly overrated. They should just rename it “Best Quarterback Award” and be done with it already. The 2020 season hasn’t even started yet, and we can all name who is likely going to get the MVP Award come February. Russell Wilson or Patrick Mahomes or Lamar Jackson or Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. Maybe another QB emerges as an early-season favorite, but then falls off once November comes around. I suppose there’s a chance that a running back out there will have an absolutely otherworldly season, but don’t hold your breath; the award hasn’t gone to an RB since Adrian Peterson back in 2012, and Peterson is one of just three running backs this century to get it. In fact, you have to go all the way back to 1986 to find a non-QB or RB to win MVP with Lawrence Taylor. Since 1954, four non-QB/RBs have won it - including kicker Mark Moseley, who took it home during the strike-shortened 1982 season. It’s a quarterback’s award to lose every year, and it always ends up being a three or four man race.
Now look at DPOY. There are linebackers, safeties, cornerbacks, and linemen all vying for that spot. It’s anybody’s award to win. That said, of the 49 DPOY awards that have been given out, 38 of them have gone to either a lineman or a linebacker. There have only been five - FIVE - cornerbacks awarded DPOY before Gilmore got the nod. He now joins Mel Blount, Lester Hayes, Rod Woodson, Deion Sanders, and Charles Woodson (last DB to get it back in 2009) as the only corners to achieve DPOY. That’s some damn fine company.
In a fairly disappointing season, having Stephon Gilmore prove once and for all that he was worth every single penny of the contract he was given, and adding a Defensive Player of the Year Award to his championship resume, is just awesome.
Check out some Stephon Gilmore 2019 highlights here.