FOXBORO -- Christian Gonzalez has been thrown right into the fire on the Patriots defense, and the rookie has rarely gotten burned. And when he has, the 21-year-old has bounced right back to make the next play.
That alone would get a player high on the Bill Belichick praise meter. But the Patriots head coach really gushed about Gonzalez on Monday, after the rookie came down with his first career interception in Sunday night's loss to the Miami Dolphins.
With Jonathan Jones inactive, Jack Jones on IR, and Marcus Jones leaving the contest early, the New England defense was severely undermanned against Miami's terrifying receiver duo of Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. But you never would have known thanks to Gonzalez's play throughout the game.
The 17th overall pick a few months ago, Gonzalez allowed just two receptions on the five targets that went his way. Those two receptions netted Miami just 21 yards on Sunday night: a six-yard reception by Hill and a 15-yard catch by Waddle.
Early in the fourth quarter, Gonzalez jumped in front of Hill on a deep pass by Tua Tagovailoa and snagged the first INT of his young career. It was a huge play with the Dolphins up 17-10 at the time, but the New England offense squandered the opportunity by going three-and-out.
That didn't take away from Belichick's admiration of Gonzalez.
"Gonzo learns every day," the head coach told WEEI's The Greg Hill Show on Monday. "He's a smart kid, really pays attention and tries to do what you ask him to do. It was really an outstanding interception that he had.
"Really good play not only to break it up but he made a good catch and hauled it in," Belichick added. "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 has played 100 percent of New England's defensive snaps over his first two NFL games, and he's got an interception, a sack, and a pair of pass breakups on his ledger. Not too shabby for a guy who's had to cover the likes of Hill, Waddle, and Philly's A.J. Brown over his first two professional games.
Gonzalez credited veteran safety Jabrill Peppers for having him in the right spot for Sunday night's interception. The two communicated what they saw before the play, and switched spots with Gonzalez going high against Hill.
"Pep made a good call," said Gonzalez. "I trusted him, we executed and made a good play."
While Gonzalez was thrilled to make the play, he was bummed that it came in a losing effort.
"No one wants to start 0-2. But it's a new week; come in [Monday] and learn from our mistakes. We have to keep pushing," he said. "It's a long season and we just have to get to work."
Gonzalez will be right back to work in Week 3 against another stellar pass-catcher in New York's Garrett Wilson, who has found for the Jets on back-to-back weekends. After that matchup, Gonzalez will likely find himself on Dallas' Ceedee Lamb, who had 11 receptions for 143 yards against a talented Jets secondary on Sunday and has 15 receptions for 223 yards over the first two weeks.
But Gonzalez has been up to any challenge thrown his way so far and looks every bit the part of a No. 1 corner in the NFL. There should be no doubt that he'll be ready to lock down more tough matchups in the future.
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