Close your eyes and cast your mind back to Week 2 of the 2019 season. Tom Brady is under centrer Antonio Brown is lining up alongside Julian Edelman. The Patriots are facing an under-manned and under-powered Miami Dolphins team, with a rookie Head Coach in Brian Flores, that have traded away some of their star players over the offseason. You relax and hit the lever on your reclining chair and take a sip from the cool beverage of choice in your hand. Life is good. Oh, remember last week when we dismantled the Pittsburgh Steelers too? That was fun.
The game ends, Josh Rosen and Ryan Fitzpatrick throw for a combined 184 yards, 0 TD’s and 4 INT’s. The Defense is dominant and the Offense did everything it needed to do. Forty-three to zip. Super Bowl or bust.
During this game, Stephon Gilmore lined up opposite Wide Receiver Devante Parker. Parker, a former first round pick, until then, had not topped 750 yards or caught more than 4 TDs in a season. Despite this fact, he was still the Dolphins number one receiving threat. Gilmore, as expected, held Parker to zero catches on seven targets, including a tipped pass into the grateful arms of Devin McCourty.
Through the first half of 2019, Parker was his normal self, nothing special, but solid. He had Wide Receiver #2/3 production despite technically being a number one receiver. A paltry 28 catches through the first eight games for 400 yards and 4 TDs was typical Parker. He also had a 54% catch success rate. We won’t blame him entirely for that though as his quarterbacks were Ryan Fitzpatrick and Josh Rosen, he can have the benefit of the doubt.
In Ireland, we have a phrase we use when we write stories in school in Irish, usually when the writer has run out of ideas and needs to fill up the word count so in order to spice things up or to pull something from left-field they use; “Go tabann”. This translates to “suddenly” or “all of a sudden”. In week 9 of his 5th season, “Go tabann” Devante Parker finally started to fulfill his potential with a breakout performance against the Bills of 7 catches for 135 yards. In the second half of the season, up to (but not including) the Week 17 matchup against the Patriots, Parker had 36 catches for 665 yards and 5 TD’s.
Gilmore v. Parker, Part II
Fast Forward now to Week 17. The Dolphins ended an opening stretch of 7 defeats to pick up 4 wins in the remaining 8 games before the visit of the Patriots just after Christmas. Now the Dolphins are playing hard for Coach Flores. Their lack of talent is offset by the strength of character and Parker in particular is flourishing. He is now a legitimate number one target. A receiver to build an Offense around.
Parker is going to face Gilmore again, this time not as a plucky underdog but someone that is close to Pro Bowl level. Unfortunately it’s once again not a competitive matchup. But this time Parker comes out on top, with a devastating 8 catches for 137 yards against not only the best Cornerback in the NFL, but the Defensive MVP. After 5 years in the league, this is Parker’s coming out party.
On his first catch, Parker tricks Gilmore into thinking he is running a short route, catches Gilmore flat-footed and continues down the sideline for what could have been a TD, had Fitzpatrick thrown a better ball. Another catch sees Parker create a huge amount of separation on a comeback route out of a play-action pass.
By the time the 4th Quarter came around, Gilmore was playing 5 yards off Parker at the line so the Dolphins used this space and threw him more hooks and comeback passes to take advantage of it. The Dolphins knew that Gilmore likes to play press man coverage and will line up about a yard from Parker to keep him under wraps. To counteract this, they brought Parker in motion, into bunch formations, where he was off the line and therefore had more space between himself and Gilmore. Look for the Dolphins to try something similar this Sunday. When Gilmore did line up close to Parker, he seemed like his feet were stuck in concrete, and was able to breeze past him with regularity. Parker was in Gilmore’s head and he knew it.
Devante Parker is now a true number one, his last performance on an NFL field was a destruction of the Defensive MVP. Going into the same matchup this Sunday, Gilmore should be out for revenge but Parker’s confidence is sky-high, and why wouldn’t it be?
-Luke O’Brien is a Staff Writer for Full Press Coverage and covers the New England Patriots. Follow him on Twitter @lukeobrienNFL