'I want 11'
Those seven characters were all Stephon Gilmore sent in a text to his secondary coach George Catavolos the Monday prior to Buffalo's road game at Arizona. Buffalo's rookie cornerback couldn't make it much clearer that he wanted to match up with Cardinals' perennial Pro Bowl WR Larry Fitzgerald last Sunday.
"I just wanted to make sure I was assigned the best receiver," Gilmore told Buffalobills.com. "With the type of player I want to be I always want to be on the best receiver every game. I texted him and asked him."
Defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt and Catavolos knew Gilmore would see his fair share of Fitzgerald as the Cardinals' split end, but didn't commit to having him follow the All-Pro receiver all over the field. After Gilmore's performance Sunday the staff might want to give more consideration to the rookie's request the next time there's a top flight wideout to cover.
Fitzgerald was targeted 12 times in the Bills' overtime win over the Cardinals and pulled in six catches for 93 yards and a touchdown. On five of those targets he matched up outside against Gilmore. Fitzgerald's results against Gilmore?
One reception for 14 yards.
The only time Fitzgerald really hurt Buffalo in the passing game was when he was lined up in the slot. He converted a 3rd-and-2 with a 17-yard catch over the middle when Justin Rogers pulled off of him thinking Kevin Kolb was going to take off and cross the line of scrimmage.
His nine-yard touchdown catch came when he was lined up in the slot and had a mismatch underneath on a zone defense call by Buffalo.
Following the two-minute warning in the first half, Fitzgerald was targeted three times when Arizona tried to mount a late scoring drive. On 1st-and-10 Gilmore had tight coverage on Fitzgerald, but was helped by a Kevin Kolb overthrow.
On the very next play Gilmore was again in Fitzgerald's hip pocket and helped to shove the receiver out of bounds on a deep pass down the left sideline for another incompletion.
Later on that same drive on a 2nd-and-9 from the Buffalo 42, Kolb's pass was on target on a quick slant to Fitzgerald, but Gilmore was step for step with the receiver, and cut underneath him to almost come up with an interception. Gilmore couldn't hold on and had to settle for a pass breakup.
"I had seen that he had run that route a couple of times and we were in a perfect coverage where I could actually jump that route," said Gilmore. "I got one hand on it, but if I had gotten two hands on him I would've had the pick."
The only completion Gilmore gave up to Fitzgerald was a designed back shoulder throw from Kolb to Fitzgerald on a 1st-and-10 from the Cardinals' 15-yard line. The 14 yards gained came all through the air as Gilmore's tight coverage did not allow any yards after the catch.
With limited success outside, the Cardinals staff moved Fitzgerald inside again where he had a 17-yard catch and run out of the slot that helped put Jay Feely in position for the game-tying 61-yard field goal.
That was followed by a 28-yard catch and run by Fitzgerald from the flanker position on the right side of the Arizona formation. Both of those plays appeared to be defended by Buffalo zone coverages.
The last time Fitzgerald and Gilmore lined up came with 1:27 left in the game. Again Gilmore's coverage was sound and John Skelton, who had come in for the injured Kolb, overthrew his top receiver.
After the Bills had finally outlasted the Cardinals in overtime, Fitzgerald approached Gilmore and commended him for his play in the game.
"He told me to keep working and I'm going to be a good player in the league," said Gilmore of the postgame conversation on the field. "He said to never get complacent, keep working hard and keep working on my craft. Coming from a good receiver like him that's gone against good DBs I know I've got to keep working and keep doing my job."
In the jubilant Bills locker room after the game, Gilmore got a thumbs up from veteran linebacker Nick Barnett.
"He said I shut him down, but it was a team effort," said Gilmore. "The pressure was getting there and I was getting my hands on the receivers so it's all a team effort."
Still, there's no denying that Gilmore was the most effective against Arizona's top receiver, who with his 93 receiving yards Sunday became the fastest receiver in NFL history to 10,000 career receiving yards.
"I thought he was physical. That's his game. He's a physical player. He was strong. He did a good job of taking away some of the things that Larry wanted to do," said head coach Chan Gailey of Gilmore. "I thought there were some positives there. Very seldom do you shut a guy like that out."
But in the times that Gilmore was matched up with Fitzgerald he almost did, and that's quickly earning the rookie respect from the veteran players in Buffalo's locker room like Barnett.
"It's definitely a positive," said Gilmore of Barnett's approval. "Nick Barnett, he's a great player himself. He's done a lot in the league so I'm just trying to earn their respect and win as a team."