INDIANAPOLIS – Stephon Gilmore spent a good portion of his Sunday afternoon in Las Vegas at his usual spot.
He’s the Indianapolis Colts’ left cornerback. To offer a different defensive look, coordinator Gus Bradley occasionally flipped him to the right side.
But with everything on the line against the Raiders in Allegiant Stadium, there was no doubt where Gilmore would be and which receiver he would be staring at across the line of scrimmage.
Fifty-two seconds remaining. The Colts protecting a 25-20 lead. The Raiders facing a fourth-and-7 at the Indy 16.
It was Stephon Gilmore vs. Davante Adams.
Of course it was.
There were other influential moving parts on the play: good across-the-front pressure on quarterback Derek Carr and linebacker Bobby Okereke coming on a blitz around the left side of his protection. This wasn’t the game-on-the-line scenario against Washington two games earlier when Taylor Heinicke had 7, 8, 10 seconds to deliver the football to Terry McLaurin, who wrestled it away from Gilmore near the goal line.
This was Gilmore vs. Adams in quick time.
On the Colts’ sideline, Bradley dialed up that matchup. Internally, he had one thought in mind.
Hey, Gilly, go win us the game.
“I may not go to him and tell him that,’’ Bradley said with a smile, “but that’s what I’m thinking when we make some calls. I think he just gives you great confidence.
“He loves that challenge, now. He loves that part of it.’’
“He’s the best in the business,’’ said linebacker Zaire Franklin. “He’s been the best for a long time.
“Honestly, it’s Gilly. Even after Washington, there’s nobody I’d rather have on the whole planet to be in that position than him.’’
If Gilmore is in the position 10 times, does he win eight? Nine?
“I’m going to go 10,’’ Franklin said. “Anytime he loses I’m surprised.
“But I’m going to bet the house on him every single time.’’
Gilmore is one of the softer voices in the Colts’ locker room. But that belies what stirs under the surface.
He thrives when it’s Very Good versus Very Good. He embraces those do-it-or-else situations.
In the Colts’ 12-9 overtime win at Denver, Gilmore snuffed out one Broncos’ fourth-quarter drive with an end-zone interception of Russell Wilson, then ended things – fourth-and-1 at the 5, 2:38 remaining in OT – by deflecting Wilson’s pass to Courtland Sutton.
“It’s just in me,’’ he said. “Throughout my career I’ve been able to make plays in big games and big situations.
“It’s like with all the greats. Michael Jordan took that last shot.’’
There was no chest thumping, and it wasn’t over-the-top braggadocio from a veteran with credentials to do both. You know, 2019 Defensive Player of the Year, Super Bowl champion, two-time first-team All-Pro, five-time Pro Bowl selection.
“I just look at it that way,’’ Gilmore said. “You’ve got to be ready for that situation. You’re not perfect, and you may miss, but you’re going to be ready for that situation nine times out of 10.’’
There were a handful of situations during the game where Gilmore shadowed Adams. Other times, it was Isaiah Rodgers or Kenny Moore II or a linebacker.
“Game situations,’’ Bradley said of leaning on his top corner. “And I think at critical times.’’
There was no more critical time than fourth-and-7 at the 16.
Well, that’s not entirely true. That critical time followed third-and-7. Gilmore was in position to make the play of the game because Okereke made one on the previous snap. He was one-on-one against tight end Foster Moreau, and responded by swatting the football out of Moreau’s hands in the end zone.
“He stood up and made a play,’’ Bradley said of Okereke. “It’s kind of cool to see that in critical times.’’
Finally and dramatically, it was all on Gilmore.
He squared up against Adams on the right side of the Colts’ formation, and there was no doubt in his mind who Carr would be targeting.
“In the big situations, most quarterbacks look to their go-to guy,’’ Gilmore said. “I knew the ball was going to go to him. It was one-on-one. Just like in practice. One-on-one. Who’s going to win?’’
At the snap, Gilmore backpedaled as Adams surged off the line. He wasn’t certain whether Adams would run a fade or cut sharply inside.
“I kind of thought about the route, but I didn’t know,’’ he said. “I just had to be patient at the line of scrimmage and be able to cut him off and make a play on the ball.’’
He made certain to funnel Adams toward the sideline.
“Exactly,’’ Gilmore said. “The sideline is my extra defender.’’
As Gilmore and Adams jostled down the left side of the field and into the end zone, Carr’s pass arrived. Gilmore flicked it away with his right hand. Despite the hand-fighting, there was no flag for interference.
“I wasn’t concerned,’’ Gilmore said. “He was using his hands. He was extending.
“It was a bang-bang play. Gotta let us play.’’
Gilmore’s ability to represent a true shut-down option was the driving force behind general manager Chris Ballard making him one of the Colts’ bigger offseason investments: a two-year, $23 million contract.
He’s low-key but has provided high yield. And Gilmore possesses the trait that’s vital to every cornerback: a short memory. That’s essential, especially at the end of games.
“No matter what happened throughout the game, you’ve really got to put that behind you, good or bad,’’ he said. “You’ve got to be able to make that play.
“If you make that play, nothing else matters.’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.