DENVER – The eighth time Russell Wilson threw Stephon Gilmore's way, the Colts cornerback undercut wide receiver Tyrie Cleveland's route and picked off the Denver Broncos quarterback in the end zone.
And the ninth time Wilson threw Gilmore's way, the Colts cornerback – again – undercut wide receiver Courtland Sutton's route and swatted the ball away on fourth-and-one, earning his team a 12-9 victory over the Broncos on Thursday Night Football.
"(Wilson) kept trying me," Gilmore told Amazon Prime's postgame show. "So I had to make him pay."
The Colts gritty win at Empower Field at Mile High does not happen without first a game-shifting and then a game-sealing play from the 2019 AP Defensive Player of the Year. Gilmore, whose deflection of a Patrick Mahomes pass in Week 3 led to safety Rodney Thomas Jr. snagging the game-sealing interception to down the Kansas City Chiefs, played every bit like the lockdown, playmaking corner the Colts believed he could be in Gus Bradley's defense when they signed him in April.
Both those plays came in one-on-one matchups where everything that makes Gilmore a great player shined.
On the game-ending breakup, his savviness in route recognition led him to keep inside leverage on Sutton and push him toward the back of the end zone, allowing him to undercut the route and swat away Wilson's pass.
On the interception, Gilmore used the condensed space in the end zone to his advantage, allowing him to jump Cleveland's route on third-and-four with 2:19 left in the fourth quarter.
And once Gilmore used his football IQ and technique to set up both plays, his athleticism shined.
"It was like one-on-ones in practice," Gilmore said. "You gotta do or die and I was able to make a play on that play."
From the sideline, a guy who had to go against Gilmore every day in practice during training camp couldn't help but notice the similarities, too.
"Seeing him make plays like that," wide receiver Alec Pierce said, "it makes you feel better as a receiver when you have a little bit of struggles against him in practice."
Gilmore may not be boisterous, but his steely confidence, attention to the smallest of small details and even-keel demeanor make him a specter of sorts for opposing quarterbacks. Test or underestimate the 32-year-old at your own risk.
"Yeah, I'm older, but all you gotta do is turn the film on," Gilmore said. "I don't like when people say, 'you're old.' Just watch the film."
Turn on the film and you'll see Gilmore locking down opposing receivers when he's not making game-altering splash plays late in games. You'll see a cornerback playing with strong physicality and not allowing many yards after the catch. You'll see a veteran honing his technique in a different defensive scheme than he's played in the past.
And when you turn on the film you'll notice something else: "It feels like he's never under stress," defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. "… I just feel like he's got low RPMs all the time. He's dictating what happens, he's baiting guys, we see it on film. He's elite. I'm happy he's on my team."
Of the nine times Wilson targeted Gilmore in coverage, five were in the fourth quarter or overtime. And the one Gilmore intercepted was an extremely aggressive decision – a field goal at that point would've put the Broncos up six, forcing the Colts to drive the length of the field for a game-winning touchdown instead of a game-tying field goal. Instead, Gilmore picked off the pass; Matt Ryan followed with the 36th fourth quarter comeback of his career.
But it wasn't just that Wilson threw the ball on that third-and-four just before the two-minute warning. He went after Gilmore.
And Gilmore made him pay.
"When they threw it, I thought that was silly," linebacker Zaire Franklin said. "That's Gilly. He don't play. … He ain't one to test."