CINCINNATI – Rex Ryan had a simple message for Stephon Gilmore entering Week 12.
“I’m challenging him to be the player that I know he is,” the Buffalo Bills’ coach said.
Gilmore got the message during his team’s 16-12 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium, finishing with a pair of interceptions.
“He’s responded,” Ryan said. “These last few weeks, he’s been as good as any corner in the league. That’s what we need him to do, and that’s what type of play you need from him.”
Gilmore has been a lightning rod for criticism this season, particularly after rough outings against the Jets and Patriots. Playing in the final year of his contract, his status as the team’s No. 1 cornerback beyond the next six weeks is murky.
But for those who have said Gilmore cost himself money earlier in the season because of his struggles (guilty as charged), he likely earned back some of that bank Sunday.
“Every game is a statement game for me,” he said. “I go out there and try and play my hardest every game, and have a short-term memory. So that’s what I’m about.”
Gilmore had his second two-interception game of the season, becoming the 22nd player in franchise history to have at least two multiple-interception games. He now has 13 career interceptions, becoming the 20th player in franchise history with that many.
“We haven’t had takeaways in probably three or four weeks, so it felt good to get them to turn the ball over,” he said. “We know it’s going to be on us, and we have to step up and make plays.”
The Bills’ interception drought actually dated all the way back to Week Five against Los Angeles, so they were overdue for a pick or two.
Gilmore and the secondary also caught a big break when the Bengals lost star receiver A.J. Green on their second play of the game.
“We went to our regular coverages,” Gilmore said. “We were going to double him a little bit throughout the game, so it did change the game plan a little bit.”
Gilmore’s first interception came on an Andy Dalton pass intended for Brandon LaFell along the left sideline. It looked like it was going to be a pick-six until Bengals running back Gio Bernard tracked Gilmore down and stopped him at the Cincinnati 3-yard line.
After the play, Ryan ran the length of the field to congratulate his player.
“When the head coach runs all the way down to the end zone and shake your hand, that gives you a great feeling,” Gilmore said. “That makes you want to go out and keep fighting for him. It was a good feeling.”
It wasn't a perfect game for Gilmore. He was in coverage on Bengals receiver Tyler Boyd's 1-yard touchdown catch in the second quarter, although it was unclear if there was a coverage mix up with safety Corey Graham.
Nevertheless, Gilmore bounced back with his second pick, which came in the dying seconds of the first half. Bengals tight end Tyler Eifert couldn’t make a one-handed catch, and tipped the ball right to Gilmore. The interception ensured the Bengals wouldn’t add any points before halftime – a much-needed boost after the Bills saw both receiver Robert Woods and running back LeSean McCoy go out with injuries.
“We knew we had to step up when we lost Woody and Shady,” Gilmore said. We could “not let them get to the end zone or score.”
At 5-5, the Bills still are on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, but they live to see another day.
“We control our own future,” Gilmore said. “We’ve got to just keep winning and take it one game at a time. We put ourselves in this position, so we’ve got to dig out of it and keep winning games.”