Stephon Gilmore vs. D.K. Metcalf was a fight that went the distance

Stephon Gilmore battled D.K. Metcalf throughout most of Sunday night's game. AP

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Things got a bit scrappy during Sunday night’s showdown between the Patriots and the Seattle Seahawks.

Midway through the third quarter, Seahawks receiver D.K. Metcalf and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore got tangled up out of bounds on Seattle’s sideline. The pair attracted a large crowd of players and they had to be separated, as Metcalf continued to reach for — and eventually grabbed — Gilmore’s face mask.

After the game, Gilmore chalked up the incident to just two opponents competing.

“I feel like he was blocking me after the whistle,” Gilmore said. “That’s sometimes what goes on.”

Earlier in the game, Metcalf had beat Gilmore for a 54-yard score. According to the NFL’s Next Gen Stats, that reception was the first touchdown Gilmore has allowed as the nearest defender in coverage over the last two years.

Russell Wilson threw a great, great ball, where I couldn’t get it,” Gilmore said. “Hats off to him.”

Throughout the game, Metcalf and Gilmore remained physical, often making use of their hands in jockeying for leverage. Gilmore said after the game he was trying to keep his poise while also staying aggressive. Metcalf finished with four catches and 92 yards on six targets.

When asked about his performance, Gilmore seemed more interested in complimenting the quarterback rather than the receivers.

“I think I did OK,” he said. “Russell Wilson is a great quarterback. He bought a lot of time. That’s what helped those guys out. He bought some time and he threw some great balls tonight.”

Wilson had a field day, throwing for five touchdowns, each to a different receiver. His performance marks just the second time a quarterback has thrown for five touchdowns against a Bill Belichick-coached team. The last to do it was Drew Brees of the New Orleans Saints in 2009.

Broken record

Patriots quarterback Cam Newton rushed for two touchdowns, setting an NFL record for most multi-rush touchdown games by a quarterback in NFL history. Including Sunday, Newton has rushed for more than one touchdown in eight games, which surpasses Otto GrahamJack KempSteve McNair, and Steve Young.

Against the Seahawks, Newton once again was the team’s leading rusher, finishing with 47 yards on 11 carries.

Without James White, the running backs struggled to produce: Sony Michel posted 19 yards on seven carries, and Rex Burkhead generated only 2 yards off of six attempts. Undrafted rookie J.J. Taylor also received one carry, in which he lost a yard. As a unit, the trio averaged 1.4 yards per attempt.

Well received

At 34 years old, veteran receiver Julian Edelman racked up a career-high 179 receiving yards Sunday night. Edelman caught eight passes on 11 targets, including a 49-yard reception.

Second-year receiver N’Keal Harry also had a big night, shattering his previous career-highs with a 72-yard performance. Harry caught eight passes on a team-high 12 targets, including two key receptions on the team’s final drive of the game.

“Doughboy has grown in front of everyone’s eyes,” Newton said.

Catching up

Newton reunited with a former teammate prior to kickoff.

During warm-ups, Newton spotted Seahawks tight end Greg Olsen about 25 yards away and ran over to give him a big hug. The two, grinning, chatted briefly before embracing once again.

Newton and Olsen overlapped for nine seasons in Carolina.

Safety net

Adrian Phillips is one tough customer.

The first-year Patriots defender — it’s tough to give him a position label just yet — had Miami seeing double in the season opener playing a hybrid spot. He was seemingly around the ball and banging into a Dolphin on every snap.

Phillips finished the game with a team-high nine tackles, including eight solos, as he looked completely comfortable playing on both the second and third levels of New England’s new-look defense.

He added six more tackles in Sunday night’s 35-30 loss to the Seahawks.

Phillips is listed as a 5-foot-11-inch, 210-pound safety, but not everyone is convinced that position classification is accurate.

“I like to say Adrian is a linebacker at heart,” inside linebackers coach Jerod Mayo said with a big smile last week. “He just stopped growing a little early, a little sooner than the rest of us. He’s just a hard-nosed player. He loves to run and tackle. You got a chance to see that on the field this [in Week 1]. He just loves to tackle, and I can definitely appreciate that.”

Signed as a free agent, Phillips figured to assimilate quickly in New England, which needed to replace Duron Harmon, a key member of the safety rotation who had been traded to the Lions.

The COVID-19 pandemic, however, changed the plan a bit, with longtime defensive stalwarts Patrick Chung and Dont’a Hightower opting out. Enter Phillips, who is helping to fill the voids at both positions.

Phillips’s combination of experience, instincts, and intelligence made him the perfect candidate to take on a massive role on this defense, despite having to learn a lot of it during a virtual offseason.

The Patriots were well aware of Phillips skill-set, having prepared to go against him during his time with the Chargers. Phillips’s ability to shine in different spots and looks not only from game to game, but from series to series and play to play, always stood out. That versatility has long been coveted by Bill Belichick.

“He’s a smart player, he’s tough, he’s physical, he runs well, and he tackles well and plays really within the defense, plays a smart game,” said the coach. “Glad we have him and he’s working well with our other linemen, linebackers, and specifically defensive backs, which is where he works the most.”

Phillips has the range to make plays in the secondary, but also the ruggedness to fill gaps against the run.

“When he’s around the line of scrimmage, he has to have a good feel for what those other guys are doing, too,” said Belichick. “He’s shown the ability to play near the line and not near the line, so it just kind of depends on what [the opposition is in] and what we’re trying to do.”

Overall, Phillips was pretty happy with his Patriots debut, but he knows there’s room for improvement.

“It wasn’t flawless like I wanted it to be. I had a couple mishaps that I wish I could have back,” he said. “You know, during training camp we were focused on tackling a lot. That was a big emphasis, because we didn’t have those four preseason games. So, we had to find a time to get it in. And we went about it the right way and made sure that we were smart about it.”

Devin McCourty, the leader of New England’s defense, was pretty succinct in his assessment of how Phillips has fit in.

“I think we’ve added another really smart guy to our secondary who really understands the game of football,” he said.

Inactive lists

In addition to White, whose father, Tyrone, was killed in a South Florida automobile accident Sunday, the Patriots had five other inactive players.

Quarterback Jarrett Stidham, tight end Dalton Keene (neck), offensive tackle Korey Cunningham, and cornerback Myles Bryant joined linebacker Josh Uche (ankle), who was declared out on Friday.

None of the latter five players were surprise scratches. Stidham, Keene, Uche, and Cunningham sat out the opener, too. Cunningham has been a healthy scratch in 16 of his 19 games with New England. Rookie linebacker Cassh Maluia was poised to make his professional debut.

For the Seahawks, Phillip Dorsett, the former Patriots receiver, headlined their list of inactives. Dorsett had been questionable with a foot injury. Also out for Seattle: offensive tackle Cedric Ogbuehi (pectoral), running back Deejay Dallas, and linebackers Alton Robinson and D’Andre Walker.

Shout out

After Devin McCourty returned an interception 43 yards for a TD on the game’s opening possession, he paid homage to White, running to a camera in the end zone and saying, “2-8, we love you bro!” … The Patriots all stood for a guitar solo version of The Star-Spangled Banner, while the Seahawks had some players stand, some kneel, some sit, and some wait in the locker room until it was over … As he did for the opener, Belichick is still wearing a Fritz Pollard patch on his visor … Stidham ran Edelman through the receiver’s normal pregame routine. The quarterback also warmed up several other receivers, including Harry and Jakobi Meyers … Dorsett exchanged pleasantries with several former teammates, coaches, and staffers … During the press box announcements of the inactives, Dorsett was pronounced “Door-sit.” Who knew? … Other Patriot connections in Seattle: Jacob Hollister is one of four tight ends on the roster and quarterback Danny “Crazy Legs” Etling is on the practice squad … The Seahawks entered the game having won 11 straight home openers.

Jim McBride contributed to this report from Seattle.

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