One of the biggest bright spots to the Patriots’ 0-2 start to the 2023 season has been the play of rookie cornerback Christian Gonzalez through two difficult matchups to begin his NFL career.
Gonzalez made the Patriots’ best defensive play in Sunday night’s 24-17 loss to the Dolphins, running over and jumping in front of wide receiver Tyreek Hill on a deep shot from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa to take the ball away with an impressive interception.
The Patriots trailed 17-10 with 10 minutes left in the game when he made the takeaway. Mac Jones and the offense couldn’t capitalize on the Dolphins’ turnover, but it gave the Patriots a fighting chance late in the game.
“Gonzo learns every day,” head coach Bill Belichick said on WEEI’s “The Greg Hill Show” on Monday morning. “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 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.
“There were other coverage plays that he had. 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 faced off against Hill and Jaylen Waddle, one of the best wide receiver duos in the NFL, on Sunday night one week after covering Eagles receivers A.J. Brown and Devonta Smith, another one of the league’s best tandems, in Week 1.
Hill caught just five passes on nine targets for 40 yards and a touchdown (with safety Kyle Dugger in coverage) on the Patriots. Waddle caught four passes on six targets for 86 yards. The Patriots allowed just 79 yards to Brown and 47 yards and a touchdown to Smith in Week 1.
They were forced to cover Hill and Waddle without starting cornerback Jonathan Jones, who missed Week 2 after suffering an ankle injury in practice. Cornerback Jack Jones began the year on injured reserve with a hamstring ailment and can’t return until Week 5 at the earliest, and Marcus Jones suffered a shoulder injury midway through the first quarter and didn’t return.
Belichick didn’t have an update on Marcus Jones’ injury.
That left the Patriots with Gonzalez, Myles Bryant and Shaun Wade at cornerback.
“The corner position’s unfortunately been thinned out here over the last couple of weeks, but I thought those guys competed well,” Belichick said Monday morning on a video conference call. “Obviously it’s a pretty good group of receivers and quarterback but had our good moments. I thought those guys competed well and gave us a great effort.
“Just collectively, defensively we had really two bad series that kind of tilted the game there. So have to do a better job in those two situations.”
The Patriots allowed an 11-play, 78-yard touchdown-scoring drive early in the second quarter after rookie wide receiver Demario Douglas gave the ball away on a fumble. The defense also let up a 43-yard touchdown run to running back Raheem Mostert midway through the fourth quarter.
If Jonathan and Marcus Jones can’t play Week 3 against the Jets, the Patriots also have the option of moving safety Jalen Mills back to cornerback, where he played in 2021 and 2022.