FOXBORO — No one wanted to single out one player after a defensive performance so completely inept. One did have a particularly bad day, though, and it could not be ignored.
Stephon Gilmore struggled mightily in Sunday’s 33-30 loss to the Carolina Panthers at Gillette Stadium. Outside of a few moments, the Patriots cornerback has done so all season.
The former Buffalo player, who received a five-year, $65 million contract this offseason in free agency, has been a non-factor at best and a total liability at worst. At least once a game — and in Sunday’s case, at least twice — Gilmore has made a costly error that typifies the way the defense has underperformed.
On Sunday, Gilmore made two critical illegal use of hands penalties to the face of the receiver he was covering. Each came on third down, on a play that would have ended the drive, and each time the Panthers responded with points — a touchdown in the third quarter, then the last-second, game-winning field goal at the gun.
“I was surprised, but I was playing aggressive,” said Gilmore, asked about the flags. “I don’t know what else I can do.”
These mistakes have been a constant with Gilmore, who has only really shone in coverage on man-to-man. Many times, Gilmore gets lost in zone, as does an opposing receiver for a huge gain.
In the second quarter, Gilmore jammed the wrong receiver and allowed Carolina’s Devin Funchess to get free for a 10-yard touchdown.
“We’ve got to get better on the communication,” Gilmore said. “I’ve got to get better on the communication.”
That’s obvious to everyone in the secondary, who each cited it as an issue. Safety Devin McCourty knows those problems can’t be traced back to a lack of chemistry or new players in the system. The loss of Logan Ryan in free agency to the Tennessee Titans can’t be an excuse.
“(Ryan) can’t come back, so . . .,” McCourty said.
Ryan wasn’t perfect, but mental breakdowns were few and far between. His replacement Gilmore appears plagued by bad awareness or worse, but he’s not the only one taking the results the first four weeks — they were last in pass yards allowed before Cam Newton’s 304 — hard.
“We’re all beating ourselves up,” McCourty said.
As Malcolm Butler said, the Pats can’t seem to get out of their own way.
“Basically, we beat ourselves (with) penalties,” he said.
Butler didn’t mention anyone by name, but he didn’t have to.