FOXBOROUGH — Cornerback Stephon Gilmore won’t be surprised if he doesn’t win the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award this season.
“I’m not surprised at nothing nowadays,’’ he said Tuesday. “Even when you think you did something, people get slighted in life all the time. It’s not nothing new.’’
It’s been a while since a cornerback was recognized as Defensive Player of the Year. The last two players at his position to win were Charles Woodson of the Green Bay Packers in 2009 and Deion Sanders of the San Francisco 49ers in 1994.
Gilmore’s case is a compelling one, though.
Through 15 games, he has a league-high six interceptions. With two pick-sixes, he’s one of three players with multiple defensive touchdowns. Gilmore has also deflected a league-high 19 passes, allowing just 25 receptions on 70 attempts for a 35.7 completion percentage. When opposing quarterbacks target Gilmore, their passer rating is only 0.1 higher than if they threw the ball away on every possession.
Gilmore has his sights set on bigger goals, as the Patriots could advance to their fourth straight Super Bowl this postseason. But the individual honors still mean something to him.
“I wouldn’t say I don’t care,’’ said Gilmore, who was recently named to his third Pro Bowl. “It’s a big award. You have to earn it. A lot of stuff goes into it. I just try to do the best I can on the field and put myself in the best position to make plays each and every week for my team. When you do that, those things take care of itself.’’
For teammates Joejuan Williams and Duron Harmon, the choice is obvious.
“Look at the stats,’’ Williams said. “Look. At. The. Stats. Just look at his stats and then look at his role. Dog’s matching up with the No. 1 receiver. We ain’t playing no zone or anything like that. He’s playing the No. 1 receiver every game, manned up face-to-face.’’
“For Steph to have six interceptions as a man-to-man corner who hardly ever has his eyes on the ball like a zone corner, it’s impressive, it’s really, really impressive,’’ added Harmon.
Gilmore allowed his first touchdown of the season in Week 15 against the Buffalo Bills. Through New England’s first 14 games, he had kept Tyreek Hill, DeAndre Hopkins, Amari Cooper, Odell Beckham Jr., and everyone else scoreless.
“At the end of the day, if you’re playing corner, you’re going to get beat a few times,’’ Williams said. “These wide receivers are getting paid millions of dollars, too. There’s some really great receivers in this league, so, of course, every corner gets beat. But look at the receivers Steph’s locked down and the level of talent.’’
Harmon noted Gilmore’s impact also extends beyond his one-on-one matchup. His dominant presence allows other members of the secondary to step up, too. The Patriots’ defense ranks first in the league in interceptions, completion percentage, pass yards per attempt, and passing touchdowns allowed.
“What he has the capability of doing, locking down one side, it not only gives the free safety but the defensive coordinator and everybody else the opportunity to be aggressive,’’ Harmon explained. “There’s not a single player in the NFL that’s played defense better than Steph this year.’’
The Patriots did not practice Wednesday. If they had, linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley (knee), offensive tackle Marcus Cannon (ankle), linebacker Jamie Collins (shoulder), wide receiver Julian Edelman (knee/shoulder), cornerback Jonathan Jones (groin), and Jason McCourty (groin) all would have been limited.
The projected injury report is an encouraging sign for both Cannon and Jones. Cannon was ruled out in the second quarter against the Bills after rolling his ankle, while Jones was inactive for the game and did not participate in any practices last week.