The complaints were loud, and started early last season. Some decisions in free agency didn’t sit well, especially when it came to the Patriots’ top cornerback.

Why did the team give newcomer Stephon Gilmore the big money right out of the gate, and ignore Super Bowl hero Malcolm Butler, who was looking for an extension as a restricted free agent?

Let’s just say the move wasn’t met with overwhelming applause from the fandom, especially when Gilmore struggled early on.

The former Buffalo Bills Pro Bowl defender had his problems. He didn’t play like a top corner, certainly not like someone worthy of the five-year, $65 million contract the Patriots handed over the minute free agency opened.

Seeing how it’s all played out more than a year later, the Patriots look pretty shrewd right now.

Don’t they always?

They may have lost Butler in free agency, as he eventually got his money, signing a five-year, $61 million deal with Tennessee, but the Patriots have a shutdown corner.

The Titans don’t.

Butler, whom the Patriots will see Sunday when they head to Nashville to take on the Titans, has had a tough year. He hasn’t played like an elite corner.

Pro Football Focus currently ranks Gilmore as the fifth best cornerback in the league. Butler comes in at No. 82.

Monday night’s game against the Cowboys couldn’t have been much worse for Butler, even though the Titans won. Butler was in coverage for both Dallas scores in the 28-14 victory.

He just can’t shake the touchdown bug. Teams have been taking advantage of his aggressiveness. He jammed newly acquired Cowboy Amari Cooper at the line, but couldn’t stay with him on Cooper’s 11-yard score. Allen Hurns also beat him on a double move.

The numbers weren’t pretty, as he allowed eight completions on 11 targets for 108 yards and two touchdowns. Is that a No. 1 corner? Overall, he’s allowed 39 catches for 618 yards and seven touchdowns this season. All three marks are league highs among cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus.

Gilmore hasn’t had the same issues when playing in man coverage. He’s been a stud.

In the last four games for the Patriots, Gilmore has allowed just seven catches on 20 targets for 86 yards and no touchdowns with four pass breakups. He’s largely neutralized Sammy Watkins, Allen Robinson and Kelvin Benjamin before silencing Davante Adams Sunday night.

He didn’t shadow Adams on every snap, with several Patriots defenders joining in, but the Green Bay receiver, who basically boasted that he was “unguardable” heading into the game, learned right away that Gilmore was up to the challenge.

On the Packers’ first drive, Gilmore broke up a pass intended for Adams in the end zone. That set the tone and sent a message.

“I didn’t like what (Adams) said earlier in the week,” Gilmore said. “I kind of took it personal a little bit.”

The best players tend to make others eat their words.

Former NFL coach Rex Ryan also took note. He was impressed with Gilmore Sunday night.

“Now that’s what a No. 1 corner looks like. And Bill Belichick took advantage of it, he matched him up, like I used to match up (Darrelle) Revis, against the best receiver, Davante Adams,” Ryan gushed during an appearance on ESPN Monday. “He was able to roll his coverage to the second or third option of Aaron Rodgers, and say, ‘go ahead, you got 1-on-1 out there if you want it.’ But that’s how good Stephon Gilmore’s playing.”

After surpassing 130 yards in each of Green Bay’s previous three games, Adams was held to just 40 yards on six catches in the 31-17 loss to New England.

SiriusXM NFL commentator Solomon Wilcots believes it was just a matter of Gilmore’s adjusting. Now he’s taken off.

“This is the player we all thought he could be. This is the player he was in Buffalo – he just wasn’t in as meaningful games, or meaningful moments, like what you’re seeing now. I think people kind of overblew the slow start he got off to last year,” said Wilcots. “Clearly, when you come into that organization, there’s going to be some growing pains. But what you see now, he’s more comfortable, he’s very certain in the things he’s doing, not just technique, but the communication as well.”


He hasn’t been the same since the Super Bowl loss to the Eagles, when Bill Belichick inexplicably kept him on the sideline the entire game for reasons known only to the Hoodie.

Sure, the Patriots were right for paying Gilmore over Butler. It still doesn’t excuse the Super Bowl decision.

Titans Coach Mike Vrabel said during his press conference Tuesday that Butler was working through “technique” issues. He also stressed Butler wasn’t in danger of losing his starting job. He won’t be benched against the Patriots.

“Look, I’ve seen bad cornerback play,” said Wilcots. “That wasn’t bad cornerback play by Malcolm last night. That was just a guy who was overaggressive, and they got the book on him, and they used it. The book is, he’s overaggressive, and double moves work on him … he doesn’t have guys just running by him.”

In Foxborough, with Gilmore, there are no worries. He’s simply the definition of good cornerback play.

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