FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Life as an NFL cornerback is pretty simple.

“You’ve got to go out and prove yourself every week,” said veteran cornerback Stephon Gilmore, in his second season with the New England Patriots.

Gilmore did pretty well for himself this year. According to Pro Football Focus, a stats-based website that evaluates players and units at every position, Gilmore finished the regular season with a 90.7 rating, highest among cornerbacks.

He defended 20 passes, which was second in the league, and had two interceptions and two forced fumbles, earning first-team All-Pro honors for the first time.

It was quite a difference from his first year with the Patriots, when a slow start had fans wondering why New England threw a five-year, $65 million contract at the former Buffalo Bill.

But Gilmore’s performance this year has quieted those doubts. Now all he has to do is step up against the Los Angeles Chargers and their outstanding receivers in the AFC divisional round playoff game at Gillette Stadium on Sunday.

The Chargers represent a big challenge – literally – for the Patriots. Keenan Allen (97 catches, 12.3 yards per catch) is 6-foot-2. Mike Williams (15.4 yards, 10 touchdowns) and Tyrell Williams (15.9 yards, five touchdowns) are both 6-4. Travis Benjamin (15.5 yards) is the shortest at 5-10.

Gilmore is 6-1, as is rookie cornerback J.C. Jackson, who has been one of the Patriots’ best pass defenders the last five weeks. But neither Jason McCourty nor Jonathan Jones, New England’s other cornerbacks, is taller than 5-11.

That could give the Chargers a decided advantage, especially on high throws. Safety Devin McCourty isn’t concerned.

“You can’t make up for what you don’t have in size and all,” he said. “You just compete. Trying to get a hand on the ball, pull an arm, doing whatever you can to wrestle balls out. … Everyone out there is covering guys usually bigger than them. It comes down to competing and having a will to try not to give up a catch.”

Gilmore said the Patriots simply have to “play together as a team. We have to trust each other and give all we’ve got for each other.”

For Gilmore, this season was more representative of his years in Buffalo, where he was named to the 2016 Pro Bowl. Chargers Coach Anthony Lynn was in Buffalo for two of Gilmore’s five years there. He said he saw a much improved Gilmore in his second year in New England.

“I know Stephon, know him very well,” said Lynn. “I thought last year, his first year there, he was kind of making his way through from maybe being in a different organization, and this year, watching the tape, he looks like a completely different man.

“He looks lighter to me. He’s quicker on his feet. His coverage is tight. He’s physical. He’s a top corner in the league.”

Gilmore, the 10th overall pick of the 2012 draft out of South Carolina, has covered many of the top opposing receivers this year – Antonio Brown, DeAndre Hopkins and Stefan Diggs – and shut them down.

“We put him on those guys for a reason,” said Patriots safety Patrick Chung. “He’s just good, man. He’s good, he’s quiet and he just does his job, a professional. That’s what stands out about him the most, is that he’s a professional, and he comes in and studies his film and makes sure he knows what he’s supposed to do.”

Gilmore said he’s certainly more comfortable in New England this year.

He had a full offseason working with the same coaching staff. He’s had a full season working on communication in the secondary.

“I think I got better and better as the season went on last year,” he said. “This year I kept that going. Same coaches, same teammates. I’m just trying to get better every week, every game.”

And he knows that this is the time of the year to step up.

“If you like football, you want to play in these types of games,” he said. “You’ve got to make plays for your teammates.”

Mike Lowe can be contacted at 791-6422 or:

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