KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Stephon Gilmore will see a familiar face across from him when he takes the field next Sunday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta.
With the New England Patriots and Los Angeles Rams both securing spots in Super Bowl LIII this weekend, Gilmore and the rest of the Patriots’ secondary will become reacquainted with former New England receiver Brandin Cooks, who was traded to the Rams last spring.
Cooks caught 65 passes for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns in his lone season with the Patriots, and he was even more productive this year for the high-flying Rams, catching 80 balls for a career-high 1,204 yards and five scores during the regular season and another 11 for 172 in LA’s two playoff wins.
Gilmore, who joined the Patriots one day before Cooks did in the spring of 2017, is looking forward to matching up against his former teammate.
“It’ll be fun,” Gilmore said Sunday night after the Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 37-31 in overtime in the AFC Championship Game. “I’m excited for him, but on the field, it’s all business. But it’s going to be a fun experience.”
It’s unclear how exactly New England will cover Cooks, whose 4.33 speed makes him a dangerous deep threat. The better matchup for Gilmore might be the taller Robert Woods, who actually outperformed Cooks this season with 86 catches for 1,219 yards and six touchdowns — all career highs.
LA also boasts a dangerous slot receiver in second-year pro Cooper Kupp, but he won’t be available on Super Bowl Sunday after tearing his ACL in November. 2017 fourth-round pick Josh Reynolds has been the team’s No. 3 option since Kupp went down.
“I’ve watched (the Rams) a couple times,” Gilmore said. “They’ve got a great football team, a lot of great players. It’s going to be a hard football game.”
Gilmore opened Sunday’s game on Chiefs wide receiver Sammy Watkins before switching onto tight end Travis Kelce in the second half. Cornerback J.C. Jackson drew Kelce to start, with Jonathan Jones and Keion Crossen shadowing speedster Tyreek Hill with help over the top from safety Devin McCourty.
Kelce and Hill — quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ top targets this season by a wide margin — combined for just four catches on eight targets for 65 yards and a touchdown.
Thumbnail photo via Jayne Kamin-Oncea/USA TODAY Sports Images