ATLANTA – This is what Stephon Gilmore had in mind when he left the Buffalo Bills.
The New England Patriots’ cornerback made one of the biggest plays of Super Bowl LIII on Sunday night at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, coming down with an interception with 4:17 remaining in the fourth quarter. New England was nursing a 10-3 lead at the time, and the Rams were on the doorstep of a tying touchdown.
Rams quarterback Jared Goff lofted the ball toward the New England goal line, intended for wide receiver Brandin Cooks. The pass, though, never had much of a chance. Gilmore camped underneath it like a center fielder waiting for a lazy pop fly, hauling in the interception.
Stephon Gilmore was worth every penny
— Bleacher Report (@BleacherReport) February 4, 2019
“It was clutch,” he said. “I mean, I knew he was going to throw it up and I knew I had to make play. I knew he was going to force it up there. Our defensive line put a lot of great pressure on him and he chucked it up and I was able to make a play.”
It was easily the biggest play of Gilmore’s career, which started in Buffalo before he left to sign a five-year, $65 million contract with the Patriots before the 2017 season.
“It’s a great feeling,” he said. “I mean, we are the best team in the league right now.”
"A lot of people doubted us. They doubted our defense. We stuck together and we got better and better as the season went on. We found our identity and we believed in each other. And I think I would take our defense against anybody."
Gilmore finished with five tackles, a team-leading three passes defensed, one forced fumble and the crucial interception.
"I was so proud of him, man," Patriots receiver Chris Hogan said of Gilmore, a former teammate with the Bills. "He goes about his business quietly, but he works so hard and he's one best corners in the league. He showed it tonight."
Gilmore was also involved in another potential game-changing play in the fourth quarter. He was on the receiving end of a vicious stiff arm by Rams running back C.J. Anderson early in the fourth quarter. Anderson fumbled on the play, but the ball trickled out of bounds before Patriots linebacker Don’t’a Hightower was able to recover it. Gilmore was credited with a forced fumble on the play, even though he didn’t knock the ball out.
Gilmore was called for a holding penalty later on the drive, negating a Rams incompletion on third-and-11 and giving Los Angeles a first down. The Patriots, though, were able to force a Los Angeles punt.
"He's a great player. You've got to give credit where credit is due," Cooks said. "He had a great night. He capitalized when he needed to and, you know, he did his thing, so respect for him."
2. It didn’t take Nickell Robey-Coleman long to make his presence felt. The Los Angeles Rams’ cornerback made a big play in coverage against New England Patriots wide receiver Chris Hogan — his former Buffalo Bills teammate — knocking the ball away, leading to an interception by teammate Cory Littleton. That came on Tom Brady’s first pass, ending what was a promising opening possession for the Patriots.
Robey-Coleman was involved in another big play on New England’s next drive. He was flagged for unnecessary roughness after dropping Patriots running back Rex Burkhead for a 4-yard loss on a short completion. The call was dubious at best, leading several on social media to conclude it was a makeup call for the pass interference Robey-Coleman got away with in the NFC Championship Game against the Saints.
3. A total of 18 Super Bowl records were set, with the Patriots' sixth championship during the Bill Belichick-Tom Brady era accounting for a bunch of those. The nine Super Bowl appearances and six championships are both records for a quarterback and coach. At 41, Brady is the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl. So, too, is Belichick for coaches, at 66. Brady also holds Super Bowl records for most pass attempts (392), completions (256) and passing yards (2,838).
A lot of records also had to do with the offensive futility. Rams punter Johnny Hekker got a good bounce that led to a 65-yard punt, the longest in Super Bowl history. The Rams also had eight straight possessions end with a punt during the game, which had also never happened before in the Super Bowl.
The 16 combined points was the fewest ever, while New England's 13 points are the fewest for a winning team. It was also the first Super Bowl to have just one touchdown. The six points through three quarters set a record for fewest in Super Bowl history. The previous was nine, in Super Bowl IX between the Steelers and Rams. The Patriots’ 3-0 lead at halftime did not set a record for the lowest-scoring first half in a Super Bowl, though. That is held by the the Steelers and Vikings in Super Bowl IX in 1975, which Pittsburgh led, 2-0.
The teams combined for only one play in the red zone, the 2-yard touchdown run by Sony Michel.
Rams kicker Greg Zuerlein’s 53-yard field goal in the third quarter was the second longest in Super Bowl history. The longest belongs to former Bills kicker Steve Christie, who hit a 54-yarder in the first quarter against Dallas in Super Bowl XXVIII. That game was also held in Atlanta, at the old Georgia Dome.
4. The first injury of the game happened early in the third quarter. Patriots safety Patrick Chung suffered what looked like a broken arm while making a tackle against Rams running back Todd Gurley. The game was delayed for several minutes while a cast was placed on Chung’s arm. He was ruled out for the remainder of the game a short time later.
5. Hogan could never get on the same page with Brady. He was targeted four times in the first half, but failed to make a catch. He finished the game with no catches on six targets. He limped off the field with 6:33 left in the third quarter after failing to bring in a deep pass, but didn’t need any assistance from trainers.
6. Both coaching staffs made gaffes in the first quarter. New England had to burn two timeouts. According to ESPN Stats and Information, the last time the Patriots ran an offensive play with one or fewer timeouts in a first quarter was in 2009. It had never happened in the playoffs in the Bill Belichick-Brady era.
On the Rams’ side, the coaching staff was late to send the punt unit out, leading to a delay-of-game penalty. That ended up being a big deal because the Patriots jumped offside, which would have been enough for a Los Angeles first down. That happened after the play clock expired, though.
7. Both teams were as healthy as possible entering the game, with nobody from either side listed on the final injury report. New England’s healthy inactive players were defensive backs Obi Melifonwu and Duke Dawson Jr., defensive linemen Deyonta Davis, Derek Rivers and Ufomba Kamalu, tight end Stephen Anderson and offensive lineman James Ferentz. The Rams’ healthy inactives were defensive back Darious Williams, running back Justin Davis, linebackers Ogbonnia Okoronkwo and Trevon Young, offensive lineman Jamil Demby and defensive tackles Sebastian Joseph-Day and Tanzel Smart.
8. Things got off to a rocky start for the Patriots. The team bus from the hotel made a wrong turn and was delayed in arriving at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The trip to the stadium is just about one mile. … The roof at Mercedes-Benz Stadium was closed for the game after briefly being opened during pre-game festivities so that fans could observe a flyover. … The announced attendance in the game was 70,081.