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New England Patriots to Play Old Friends Gilmore and Cooks

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New England Patriots' Stephon Gilmore (24) prepares to intercept the ball against Los Angeles Rams' Brandin Cooks (12) during the second half of the NFL Super Bowl 53 football game Sunday, Feb. 3, 2019, in Atlanta. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel)

New England Patriots running back Ezekiel Elliott won’t be the only player facing his former team this Sunday in Dallas. Patriots fans will also notice a pair of familiar faces on the Cowboys sideline. Both Stephon Gilmore and Brandin Cooks once played important parts in helping the Patriots win football games. On Sunday, the duo will try to assist in the Cowboys coming out victorious.

Gilmore and Cooks were teammates on the 2017 New England Patriots. The 2017 squad finished 13-3 in the regular season, before knocking off the Tennessee Titans (34-14) and Jacksonville Jaguars (24-20) on their way to winning the AFC Championship. Unfortunately for the Patriots, they would fall short of winning the Super Bowl that season, losing to the Philadelphia Eagles 41-33.

Stephon Gilmore

Prior to the 2017 NFL season, Bill Belichick brought Stephon Gilmore to New England in free agency. The New England Patriots are not known for spending big in free agency, but they paid Gilmore. Taking him away from their division rival in Buffalo, New England signed Stephon Gilmore to a five-year contract worth $65 million. After a slow start to his time in Foxboro, Gilmore eventually proved worthy of every penny.

The Patriots franchise has a long history of elite cornerbacks. Mike Haynes, Raymond Clayborn, Ty Law and Darrelle Revis are just a sampling of the top corners to play for the Patriots. Gilmore was counted on to continue that tradition and he did not disappoint.

After the 2017 New England Patriots fell just short of their ultimate goal, both Stephon Gilmore and the team came back even stronger the following season. In 2018 Gilmore made the Pro Bowl and was named first team All Pro. He had been good his first year in Foxboro, but he was great in year two. The 2018 New England Patriots also reached the next level. They won the AFC Championship for the third consecutive year, but did not fall short in the Super Bowl.

Led by Stephon Gilmore and their impenetrable defense, New England beat the Los Angeles Rams for their sixth Super Bowl title by a final score of 13-3. Gilmore was sensational. He finished the game with five tackles, three passes defended, a forced fumble and an interception. Some even felt Stephon Gilmore deserved Super Bowl MVP.

Despite the Patriots being unable to defend their title in 2019, Gilmore was better than ever. He led the NFL in both passes defensed (20) and interceptions (six). He also returned two of the interceptions back for touchdowns. This led to Stephon Gilmore being named the 2019 NFL Defensive Player of the Year. He was the first Patriots player to win the award and just the sixth cornerback.

Gilmore’s final season playing for the Patriots was 2020. He started strong once again, but was forced to miss time after testing positive for COVID. This caused Gilmore to miss three game in the middle of the season. He did return, but was injured late in the season and missed the final three games with a partially torn quad. This injury caused New England to start Stephon Gilmore on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) list to begin the 2021 season. In October, Gilmore was traded to the Carolina Panthers for a 2023 sixth round draft pick. The New England Patriots used the pick to select WR Kayshon Boutte.

Since leaving New England, Gilmore has had stops in Carolina, Indianapolis, and now Dallas. With All Pro cornerback Trevon Diggs out injured for the Cowboys, Gilmore should be a key play in Sunday’s game.

Brandin Cooks

Cooks also landed in New England prior to the 2017 season. After spending his first three NFL seasons with the New Orleans Saints, Bill Belichick struck a trade to bring him to the Patriots. New England gave up and first and third round picks in the 2017 NFL Draft, in exchange for Brandin Cooks and a fourth round pick.

A workhorse for the New England Patriots, Cooks played in all 16 regular season games. He played in 93% of the offensive snaps on the season. He finished the year with 65 receptions for 1,082 yards and seven touchdowns. In the AFC Championship, Cooks played a huge part in helping the Patriots advance to the Super Bowl. He finished the game with six receptions for 100 receiving yards.

The Super Bowl loss was particularly difficult for Cooks, who was injured on his first reception of the game. After making the catch, Cooks was laid out on a vicious hit by the Philadelphia Eagles’ Malcolm Jenkins. He would not return for the remainder of the loss.

Unfortunately, that hit from Jenkins would be Brandin Cooks’ final play in a New England Patriots uniform. Prior to the 2018 NFL Draft, New England traded Cooks and a fourth round pick to the Rams for first and sixth round picks. The Patriots would then use the first round selection on Isaiah Wynn.

Cooks would go on to play two seasons with the Rams and three with the Houston Texans, before landing in Dallas this year. He did help Los Angeles win the 2018 NFC Championship, but they lost in the Super Bowl to New England. Stephon Gilmore’s Super Bowl interception was actually on a pass intended for Brandin Cooks.

Despite bouncing around to five different franchises, Brandin Cooks has been an incredibly productive NFL wide receiver. In his nine full seasons before 2023, he has had six seasons with at least 1,000 yards receiving. Of all active NFL players, Cooks ranks tenth in receptions and eighth in receiving yards. On Sunday, he will look to help Dallas take advantage of a depleted defensive backfield for New England.

John Stephens Jr.

A bonus inclusion here is Dallas Cowboys tight end John Stephens Jr. He did not play for the New England Patriots and will not be in uniform against them on Sunday, but he has some franchise ties.

John Stephens was a New England Patriots running back from 1988-to-1992. As a rookie, Stephens rushed for 1,168 yards, which was a franchise rookie record at the time (later broken by Curtis Martin). He was named 1988 NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and made the Pro Bowl. However, his first year in New England would also be his best. Although he played with the Patriots for four more seasons, he was never as effective as that rookie year. He is still seventh of the franchise career rushing list with 3,249 yards. He passed away in an auto accident in 2009.

John Stephens Jr. was not selected in the 2023 NFL Draft and signed as an UDFA with the Dallas Cowboys. He was a wide receiver in college for Louisiana, but Dallas converted Stephens Jr. to a tight end. He impressed in training camp and was on the verge of making the Cowboys 53-man roster. Unfortunately, the feel good story did not have quite the happy ending many were hoping for. In the Cowboys preseason finale, Stephens Jr. tore his ACL. He was placed on injured reserve and will miss the season.