FOXBOROUGH — Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore wasted no time in notching his first interception of the season.
Early in the second quarter of Sunday’s season opener against the Miami Dolphins, the reigning Defensive Player of the Year picked off Ryan Fitzpatrick’s pass intended for wideout Preston Williams. The turnover gave the Patriots advantageous field position at Miami’s 35-yard line, though the team ended up going three-and-out.
According to Gilmore, the play was nothing fancy. He studies exactly what Williams was trying to do — break back out on an inside route — so he made a point to maintain his leverage.
“I saw the ball before he even saw it,” said Gilmore, who tied for the most interceptions in the league last season with six.
The interception Sunday was the first of three for New England, as defensive backs Adrian Phillips and J.C. Jackson each notched one, too.
“It’s something we talk about every year, year in and year out,” said captain Devin McCourty. “If we can take the ball away, we’ll help us get wins. Today, winning the turnover ratio is really what led us to this victory. That’s something we got to keep a heightened awareness on each week, just going out there and attacking the football.”
Even Fitzpatrick acknowledged it after his team’s 21-11 loss: “Their secondary played better than I did.”
Fitzpatrick, who turns 38 in November, finished with 191 passing yards and no touchdowns.
The last time Fitzpatrick visited Gillette Stadium was a different story. He and the Dolphins stunned the Patriots in their 2019 regular-season finale, forcing them to miss a first-round bye. In the final minute, Fitzpatrick connected with tight end Mike Gesicki for a 5-yard touchdown that capped a 13-play, 75-yard drive and gave Miami the 27-24 victory.
But there was no Fitz-magic this time around.
New England’s secondary proved the group is still one to be reckoned with.
“I think we said it all training camp,” McCourty said. “I just love the way our group competes.”
Last season, the Patriots led the league in interceptions and limited opponents to the fewest number of passing touchdowns, passing yards, and first downs.
With no Duron Harmon (traded to Detroit) or Patrick Chung (opted out), Sunday’s victory featured some younger faces in second-round draft pick Kyle Dugger, and 2019 second-round pick Joejuan Williams, who barely saw the field last season.
Both players received props from their teammates.
“Kyle, he’s a young guy coming in with ears, listening,” Gilmore said. “He’s an athletic guy that can make plays. I’m happy he’s on our team. He’s going to help us win some games this year.”
Coach Bill Belichick had called former Patriots cornerback Aqib Talib in hopes of recruiting him back to New England for one final season. After taking a look at New England’s schedule and seeing tight ends Travis Kelce (Chiefs) and George Kittle (49ers), however, Talib ultimately chose retirement.
Instead, it looks as if Williams, at 6 feet 4 inches and 211 pounds, will assist with containing tight ends, the role Belichick wanted Talib to take. On Sunday, Williams often matched up against Gesicki.
“I think he’s really started to understand things,” McCourty said. “He asks a lot of questions to the older guys about how to play things, what we see, and I thought he played really well today.”
The core of Gilmore, Jackson, the McCourty twins, and Jonathan Jones should serve as resources for Williams and Dugger.
Things are off to a good start, but the secondary doesn’t seem satisfied with its performance. As Talib saw, there are some tough matchups coming up on New England’s schedule, starting with a Week 2 contest against Russell Wilson and the Seattle Seahawks.
“It’s only Game 1, so we’ve got a long season,” Gilmore said.
More coverage from the game:
- Tara Sullivan: Cam Newton steps up and steps in, and a new era begins in Foxborough
- Cam Newton says Dolphins tried to come for his gold chain in dust-up after game
- Cam Newton made his own noise in a smashing debut for Patriots
- Chad Finn: Now that reality has set in, watching Cam Newton on the Patriots will be a lot of fun — and other thoughts
- Cam Newton rushed for more yards in one game than Tom Brady did in two regular seasons combined
- Instant analysis: Patriots win, and Josh McDaniels hasn’t unleashed the full Cam Newton experience yet
Nicole Yang can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.