The New England Patriots have wasted no time letting first-round pick Christian Gonzalez test the waters in the NFL. In Gonzalez’s first two NFL games, he has played 100 percent of New England’s defensive snaps.
While doing so, the rookie hasn't looked much like a rookie.
After making a key play late in the fourth quarter against the Philadelphia Eagles in Week 1, Gonzalez struck again Sunday night versus the Miami Dolphins. With the Patriots trailing by seven, Gonzalez came up with a potential game changing interception — the first of his career — to again give New England’s offense life in the fourth quarter.
On the play, safety Jabrill Peppers takes the underneath and forced speedster Tyreek Hill to the outside. As Gonzalez falls back into a more deep safety position, Tua Tagovailoa does his best to look him off. But, the rookie showcases his patented athleticism to catch up to hill and makes a fantastic high-point interception over Hill.
“Pep made a good call,” Gonzalez said. “Trusted him, and then we just executed the play and made a play.”
While the Patriots offense could not capitalize on the opportunity, it was the second straight game the rookie made an impact play down the stretch. The big time plays in key moments has left a strong impression on his head coach.
“Gonzo learns every day,” Bill Belichick said Monday on WEEI’s The Greg Hill Show. “Smart kid, really pays attention and tries to do what you ask him to do. It was an outstanding interception that he had. It was sort of a little bit similar to the play that came up in Miami last year where Tyreek went up and kind of took the ball away from us. It was a little bit different play but the same idea and then this is one where Gonzo went up and took the ball away from Hill. Really good play not only to break up but made a good catch and hauled it in.”
Beyond the interception, Gonzalez also answered the bell in coverage against Hill. After injuries to both Jonathan and Marcus Jones, it was up to Gonzalez to match up with the speedster in man looks.
While he did have occasional safety help, the rookie used his leverage and athleticism to stay in Hill’s pocket and take away the in-breaking routes that the receiver feasts on.
“He’s going to be a really good player in this league,” Hill said postgame. “He’s just very good at understanding coverage and understanding leverage. So, good for him.”
While New England ultimately fell to Miami and dropped to 0-2 on the season, the 21-year old corner is certainly impressing.
“There were other coverage plays that he had,” Belichick said. “Obviously, he’s going up against some of the best receivers in the league the last two weeks. Those experiences will pay off for him down the road.”
Gonzalez will now welcome another challenge in Week 3, as his early season gauntlet of wide receivers welcomes a potential matchup with the reigning offensive rookie of the year Garrett Wilson.
“No one wants to start 0-2 but now it’s a new week,” Gonzalez said. “So, we will come in [Monday] and just learn from our mistakes and just keep pushing. It is a long season and we just have to get to work.”