The Indianapolis Colts won four games last season.
Stephon Gilmore had a literal hand in three of them.
The five-time Pro Bowl cornerback for whom the Cowboys traded this week recorded a final-play, game-sealing pass deflection against the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos and Las Vegas Raiders. His pass breakup on Patrick Mahomes resulted in a teammate’s interception. He forced a fourth-down, end zone incompletion on Russell Wilson and Derek Carr.
Some athletes might become a laundry mat in such situations, pressing or folding instead of rising to the occasion.
“I really thrive off those moments,” Gilmore said Thursday.
The Cowboys’ cornerback depth was tested following injuries to Anthony Brown and Jourdan Lewis. Gilmore does more than bolster the position as the new starter opposite Trevon Diggs. He also offers the sort of mentality that belongs on a championship-caliber defense.
Gilmore prides himself as a closer.
“Whenever a team needs a big play in the game, I always try to force it,” Gilmore said in a conference call with Cowboys reporters. “I make it come to me, but I’m always putting myself in the position to make the play. I live for those moments. A lot of players that I looked up to growing up, they were able to make those plays at the end of the game. No matter how big the situation was, they were able to step up and make a play.”
He singled out examples.
Gilmore admired Michael Jordan and Kobe Bryant in basketball along with Deion Sanders, Ty Law and Tom Brady in the NFL.
The Cowboys’ trade for Gilmore officially processed Wednesday. For compensation, they sent to Indianapolis a fifth-round pick, the No. 176 choice, in next month’s draft. That is a small price to pay for one of the league’s top corners.
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He won a Super Bowl with the New England Patriots in the 2018 season. A year later, Gilmore totaled an NFL-high six interceptions and was named AP Defensive Player of the Year. His play hasn’t slowed much since despite turning 33 this coming September. According to Pro Football Focus, quarterbacks managed an 82.6 passer rating on attempts in his direction last year.
One of his two interceptions in 2022 came against the Cowboys.
On Dec. 4, Dak Prescott made a poor decision to throw a ball to Michael Gallup, still a bit cloddish at the time in his route-running while coming off left ACL surgery and dealing with right ankle and knee issues that led to offseason surgery. Prescott did not account for the situation and risk involved when testing Gilmore in tight coverage.
Opposing quarterbacks should face a similar quandary this year.
They must navigate a talented secondary while a top-tier pass rush, led by the likes of Micah Parsons, DeMarcus Lawrence, Dorance Armstrong and what the team believes can be a much-improved Sam Williams, forces the issue upfront.
DaRon Bland led the Cowboys with five interceptions as a rookie fifth-round pick. He should see plenty of the field in 2023 and benefit from Gilmore’s example. The team is very high on Bland and his future in Dallas.
But naturally, Gilmore’s presence creates a dynamic situation at outside cornerback.
He can generate more opportunities on the ball for Diggs and vice versa.
“It’s going to be fun,” Gilmore said. “When the season gets here, they’ve got to throw it to someone, so one of us is going to get tested. … One of us will be making plays. I’m just looking forward to know the ball is coming to someone and just being ready to be in a position to make a play.”
Especially when it needs to be made late.
On Twitter: @GehlkenNFL
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