Law lays it down: Stephon Gilmore fitting of No. 24 legacy

Chargers' James: 'We have a lot of confidence' (1:57)

Chargers safety Derwin James tells Scott Van Pelt that after beating the Ravens, his team has a lot of confidence heading into the next round vs. the Patriots. (1:57)

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady paid Stephon Gilmore a high compliment when he said he’s played with a lot of good cornerbacks and Gilmore is right up there with the best of them.

That covers three-time Pro Football Hall of Fame finalist Ty Law, along with Asante Samuel, Aqib Talib, Darrelle Revis and Malcolm Butler, among others.

Of course, the Patriots’ pursuit of Gilmore as an unrestricted free agent two offseasons ago -- and signing him to a five-year, $65 million contract -- ultimately meant he’d be replacing the widely revered Butler as the team’s No. 1 player at the position. The decision has turned out to be a shrewd one for the club.

Gilmore, who was voted first-team Associated Press All-Pro alongside Chicago Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller, will again be a central piece in the team’s game plan for Sunday’s AFC divisional-round playoff game against the visiting Los Angeles Chargers (CBS, 1:05 p.m. ET).

Gilmore might shadow a specific receiver, such as Keenan Allen or Mike Williams. Or he simply might play a side and take whichever receiver comes his way.

Patriots head coach Bill Belichick and defensive playcaller Brian Flores have utilized Gilmore (two interceptions, 20 passes defended) in a way that sparks memories of when Law was playing for the team from 1995 through 2004.

“I love the way he approaches things,” Law said of Gilmore in a telephone interview. “The stats don’t always tell the tale, as far as what he’s being asked to do, man or zone. If Bill says, ‘We’re going to match you up,’ he’s willing to do that and he’ll challenge guys. If it’s something else, he just goes out and plays the game and you don’t hear too much from him. He has a quiet demeanor.”

That’s one notable difference between Gilmore and Law.

“I was one of those types of guys who would get pissed off if they didn’t put me on the best guy. I’d be like, ‘That’s B.S.!’ Stephon isn’t that way,” Law said. “But there’s no doubt in my mind, he’s a top cover guy, whether it’s Antonio Brown or Julio Jones or someone like that.”

Law also appreciates how the 6-foot-1, 202-pound Gilmore, now in his seventh NFL season, has embraced the history of his No. 24 jersey.

“I applaud him for coming in and accepting the challenge of being the No. 1 guy and putting that 24 on -- it’s a hard act to follow,” he said, noting that Revis also wore the number in the team’s 2014 Super Bowl championship season. “One of the other things I’ve heard about him is how much he watches film and asks questions, which is a testament to him. He’s never too big to ask.

“When I was playing, I’d call Rod Woodson. Or Deion [Sanders]. I’d ask them, ‘What do you see on this guy?’ I love that he’s willing to open up and at least inquire. It shows respect. And to ask for the number [24], I look at that as a compliment and confidence in itself.”

As it turns out, Law and Gilmore have developed a rapport over the past year, having first met at an autograph signing. They plan to get together soon.

But for now, Gilmore is keeping his attention locked on the Chargers, which includes not being swept away by talk of his All-Pro recognition, or by compliments from Law and Brady.

“That’s big coming from [Brady]. He’s played with a lot of corners, so it’s a big honor," he said. "Those guys were great corners here and made a lot of plays in the National Football League. Anytime someone puts you in that category, it’s a good feeling. But you can’t be complacent and have to keep working.

“We have a big game this week, so that’s the main thing I’m focused on. This is what you play for.”