Stephon Gilmore might have dodged a bullet, but Sunday’s loss still casts somber cloud over Patriots’ veteran core

(Photo by Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

What has been a terrible, awful, no-good, very bad season for the Patriots reached its apex on Sunday afternoon, with their 22-12 loss at the hands (fins?) of the Dolphins standing as the final nail in the coffin for New England's playoff hopes in 2020. 

But to add injury to insult, the pain of New England being shut out of playoff contention for the first time in 12 years was exacerbated by the sight of cornerback and reigning Defensive Player of the Year Stephon Gilmore needing to be helped to the locker room earlier in the contest — with many fearing the worst following a non-contact injury.

Gilmore suffered the injury during the second quarter of Sunday's game, with the All-Pro defensive back looking to slow down Miami wideout Mack Hollins. But upon planting his left foot into the Hard Rock Stadium, Gilmore slipped — quickly crumbling to the field and clutching his right knee. Gilmore was eventually helped over to the blue medical tent on the sidelines before making his way down to New England's locker room — with the veteran not putting any weight on his leg thanks to the help of two staffers.

Shortly after, the Patriots tabbed Gilmore as doubtful to return with a knee injury before eventually being downgraded to out later in the game.

"Gilly is one of the best DBs in the league — and to have the opportunity to be with him and play on the same team as him, it just motivated me more," J.C. Jackson said. "To have him go down today was a big loss to our defense. He's a key factor."

Obviously, the optics of a play like this have many expecting the worst — in which a player hits the turf and grabs their knee on a non-contact sequence that was away from the play.

However, it appears as though Gilmore could have dodged a bullet, as NFL Network's Ian Rapoport reported that the defensive back did not suffer a knee injury on the play — and that whatever leg injury he did sustain "may not be as serious as it may have looked". However, Rapoport did add that Gilmore, who missed three games earlier this season due to a knee injury, will undergo further testing on Monday.

"Gilly works his butt off," Devin McCourty said of Gilmore. "Just to see him go down, it's tough as a defense. I think especially in the secondary, how close we all are, how we've kind of built bonds really over the last three to four years. So it's just tough. Any time you watch a guy go down, and especially something like that, we'll just be praying for him. Nothing will stop him. No matter what the outcome is, I know he'll be back and be his normal self, if not better, because of the way he works and his mentality.

For Gilmore, any ligament tear or other severe injury to his knee/leg would spell disaster for the 30-year-old corner, given that