FOXBORO, Mass. — Between them, Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks have played in 139 NFL games. But this weekend’s contest will be a first for both.
The co-headliners of the New England’s unprecedented offseason shopping spree will experience postseason football for the first time Saturday night as the Patriots host the Tennessee Titans in a divisional-round matchup at Gillette Stadium.
“I’m excited,” Gilmore said Thursday. “I treat it like a normal game, just probably amp it up a little bit. Just do whatever I can to help the team win.”
Gilmore signed a five-year, $65 million contract with the Patriots last spring after enduring five seasons of mediocrity with the Buffalo Bills, who never won more than nine games during the cornerback’s tenure. Cooks’ pre-Patriots career played out similarly, with the New Orleans Saints going 7-9 in each of the wide receiver’s first three NFL seasons.
The Saints traded Cooks to the Patriots for a first-round draft pick, and he immediately took over for the injured Julian Edelman as New England’s No. 1 receiver, notching his third consecutive 1,000-yard season despite struggling in December. Cooks’ 65 catches, 1,082 receiving yards and seven receiving touchdowns all ranked second on the team behind tight end Rob Gronkowski and helped the Patriots’ battered offense remain productive throughout the season.
“I’m just blessed with another opportunity to play a game,” Cooks said.
Gilmore, meanwhile, withstood a disastrous first half of the season to emerge as the Patriots’ most effective cornerback.
Though both players now are in unfamiliar territory, they said the win-or-go-home stakes haven’t altered their preparation for Saturday.
“I’m going to stay the same,” Cooks said. “Continue to do my routine, what I’ve been doing all year and focus on getting better every day. That’s what it’s all about.”
“(Bill Belichick and his staff) coach pretty hard anyway, so it’s pretty normal for me,” Gilmore added. “I just try to work on my game and get better, and whatever the coaches call, just execute it.”
The Patriots, who earned the top seed in the AFC by virtue of their 13-3 record, are pegged as 13.5-point favorites over the fifth-seeded Titans, who upset the Kansas City Chiefs on the road in the wild-card round. During the Belichick era, New England is 32-1 when favored by 13 1/2 points or more, including 4-0 in the playoffs.
“I think in the NFL, you never really can be favored, because anybody can beat you on any given day,” Gilmore said. “So you’ve got to go out there and prove yourself every game and take the game. Instead of going out there thinking you’re going to win, you’ve got to go out there and play hard to get a win.”