Who’s Soft Now? Patriots Rookie Christian Gonzalez Shuts Down Critics

Christian Gonzalez (right) makes a tackle for the Patriots in Week 1

Getty Christian Gonzalez (right) makes a tackle for the Patriots in Week 1

Back when the Patriots seemed to luck into the ability to choose Christian Gonzalez, who was slated to be a Top 10 pick in the NFL draft, at No. 17, there was one reason that stood out above all others–Gonzalez did not have the requisite physicality.

That was what scouts and coaches told Boston Sports Journal reporter Mike Giardi, who tweeted on  May 1 that Gonzalez slipped out of the top of the first round and landed with the Patriots because: “Lack of physicality, and not just in the run game.  Concerns about his play in big games. He was not good against Georgia this year in particular. That left a mark. (Two) of the personnel guys wondered if Gonzalez has the competitive spirit to go from good to great/elite.”

Gonzalez surely was not thinking this way, but his NFL debut on Sunday could be seen as a direct rebuttal to those criticisms. Gonzalez not only started the game but played every defensive snap. He was excellent–and he was physical. He finished with seven tackles, second on the team, plus a pass broken up, and a sack.

He impressed veterans with his on-field IQ.

“Attention to detail,” linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley told reporters after Sunday’s game. “I would say that was the thing across the board, especially when you get down to the nitty gritty of the game, when it comes to two-minute situations and fourth downs, the situational football. Him as well as Te [Marte Mapu] when he was in the game, just having attention to detail and kind of knowing what we’re trying to get done and what Philly wants to do, just doing well in those situations, I thought he did a solid job today.”

Christian Fauria Praises Gonzalez

That was the consensus coming out of Foxborough after Sunday’s game. Gonzalez was one of three rookies, with Mapu and Keion White, who made an immediate impact for the New England defense. But Gonzalez was considered one of the steals of the first round in April, and going up against talented Eagles wide receivers A.J. Brown and DeVonta Smith, he was the most closely watched of the three.

Not only did he chip in, but he made no major mistakes, either. That was the first thing that former NFL tight end Christian Fauria, who played 13 seasons (including four in New England), noticed about Gonzalez—that he was able to go unnoticed for not making critical errors.

“He had two big plays especially in the fourth quarter, in the second half of the game,” Fauria said on his radio show (Gresh & Fauria) on 93.7 WEEI in Boston. “That was a creative, really timely sack on Jalen Hurts, and he had the one pass break-up on the slant route at the end of the game. … He’s just a quiet guy. But I thought for the most part, first time, playing against that offense, with those receivers, first real game plan of his career, I thought he played great.”

Dolphins & Tua Up Next

Gonzalez and the Patriots secondary will get an even tougher challenge than the one they got from the defending NFC champs next week, when they face the division rival Dolphins. In the opener in San Diego, Miami was downright scary, posting 466 yards of passing offense from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, most of which went to speed demon Tyreek Hill (215 yards, two touchdowns).

Jalen Waddle added four catches for 78 yards in the game.

The Patriots were fortunate not to see Tagovailoa in the second matchup against Miami last year, but did see him in the opening game, when New England held him to a relatively modest 270 yards on 23-for-33 passing. The Patriots have played good defense against Tagliavoa in the past, holding him to 181.5 yards per game, but the Dolphins have gone 4-0 in his four starts against New England.

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