Another week, another impressive performance for Christian Gonzalez.
The rookie cornerback appeared to allow just two catches for 5 yards Sunday against Jets receiver Garrett Wilson in the Patriots’ 15-10 win. That performance came on the heels of a big week against Miami, in which Pro Football Focus had Gonzalez yielding three catches on five targets.
When measuring his work Sunday, you need to take the punchless New York passing game into account, as Zach Wilson struggled to get any sort of rhythm until late in the second half. The Jets quarterback ended up going 18 of 36 for 157 yards with three sacks. He engineered just one touchdown drive on the afternoon.
At the same time, it’s important to remember that the Patriots were missing their top three cornerbacks from last season in Jonathan Jones, Marcus Jones, and Jack Jones.
Still, there were no worries for the 21-year-old Gonzalez, who also had three tackles and a pass defensed in the win while trailing Garrett Wilson — last year’s Offensive Rookie of the Year — for much of the afternoon. At one point, Wilson could be seen having an animated discussion on the sideline with his quarterback and offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett.
“It’s kind of a next-man-up mentality,” Gonzalez said. “We trust each other. We know we’re going to go out there and do our job.
“Wilson is a great receiver. The whole team, they had a great receiving corps. It’s the NFL; it’s the best of the best. Every week, it’s a new challenge. Just something to look forward to to just go out and compete and have fun.”
There are other reasons why Gonzalez is among the early front-runners for Defensive Rookie of the Year. He has played 99.5 percent of the defensive snaps through three games (only linebacker Ja’Whaun Bentley and safety Kyle Dugger have played more) and has an interception, three passes defensed, and a sack.
“They picked a stud in the first round,” CBS analyst Tony Romo said. “That’s a home run.”
On Monday, Bill Belichick pinpointed one reason behind Gonzalez’s early success, comparing him to a former New England great the Patriots will see Sunday when they play the Cowboys.
“One of the best things about Christian, especially at that position, is he’s very even-keeled,” Belichick said Monday morning on WEEI. “He’s not overly emotional one way or another. He’s got a good, calm demeanor. A lot like [Stephon] Gilmore did.
“He’s seen some very good receivers the first three weeks, and we’re going to see another one this week with [CeeDee] Lamb.”
A slow running start
Ezekiel Elliott had his best day as a Patriot so far, rushing for 80 yards on 16 carries. Meanwhile, Rhamondre Stevenson appeared to struggle at times, finishing with 19 carries and 59 yards. It’s been an inconsistent start for Stevenson, who finished last season with 1,040 yards but is averaging just 45 yards per game through three contests.
There are many things at play, but scheme, game plan, and personnel are all a part of the conversation. You’re also not going to run the ball a lot if you’re trailing in the fourth quarter, as the Patriots were in the first two games.
But they had the lead down the stretch Sunday, and Elliott was able to navigate for good yardage on the ground. That led to questions about Stevenson Monday, and his ability to read blocks.
“I think Rhamondre reads blocks really well,” Belichick said. “Probably as good as anybody we’ve had here. He’s got really good vision. He can find space in the defense and he’s very good at lateral cuts and getting downhill, running with power. I think his vision’s really good.”
Back in line
Sunday marked the return to action for left tackle Trent Brown. The veteran, who missed the previous game against the Dolphins with a concussion, went wire to wire against the Jets.
“It was a blessing to be back out there,” said Brown, who called Sunday’s victory a “grimy” win.
“It went down to the wire,” he said. “I think everybody was on the edge of their seats. A little nervous with the Hail Mary, because that could have easily gone a different way. But just have to clean up some things up front, in our room. Just control what we can control. And do our best to build upon our performance.”
Brown confirmed a recent contract adjustment.
“It was a nice raise,” he said. “A nice gesture. And it’ll still allow me to be a free agent at the end of the year. So I’m appreciative of that, and now it’s time to play ball.”
No updates on injured linemen
There were no updates on the health of offensive lineman Cole Strange (knee), as well as defensive linemen Daniel Ekuale (elbow) and Davon Godchaux (ankle). All three were unable to finish the game Sunday … An interesting personal essay from running back Ty Montgomery was posted on his own website late Sunday. Titled “I Got Fired On My Day Off,” Montgomery shares the emotions that came with being released by the Patriots at the end of camp. Montgomery, who returned via the practice squad, wrote, “The day I got released, it gave me perspective on how small the game actually is. I used to think that football is my purpose, but now I know it’s a vehicle for my purpose.” … Through three games, four players have played 100 percent of the snaps on their sides of the ball. On offense, it’s quarterback Mac Jones and center David Andrews. On defense, it’s Bentley and Dugger … Gonzalez missed his first two snaps of the season Sunday.