FOXBORO — The truth of Christian Gonzalez’s fourth-quarter interception was it had been building.
The Patriots defense sensed Miami would grow impatient sometime in Sunday night’s game. Either Tua Tagovailoa or play-caller Mike McDaniel would force a long ball to Tyreek Hill, the premier deep threat in the entire league. Finally, Tagovailoa did.
In the fourth quarter, Tagovailoa faked a wide hand-off around midfield and hurled a high-arching pass down the left sideline. Hill had zipped by safety Jabrill Peppers and into open space. Except far behind Peppers, ranging over from a rare snap of playing deep safety, was Gonzalez.
The rookie waited, leapt, plucked the ball out of the air and came down with his first NFL interception. For a time, he had turned the game with a single play.
“(Peppers) made a good call,” Gonzalez said post-game, referring to a pre-snap adjustment. “I trusted him, and then we just executed the play and made a play.”
Peppers wouldn’t reveal the adjustment he’d made, but noted it was a twist on a common coverage for the Patriots defense.
“I can’t really get into the specifics of it, but it was a version of a staple coverage here. I could have got a better job of getting a jam on Tyreek … but Christian did a good job staying over the top, had good ball skills, high-pointed the ball,” Peppers said. “It was a big, crucial play for us in the game.”
Gonzalez’ interception came a week after he broke up a fourth-down pass in the final minute against the Eagles and gave the Patriots a second chance to march to a win in their season opener. While Mac Jones and the offense failed twice that game, and again in the final moments Sunday, the first-round rookie corner was at his best.
Not only did Gonzalez intercept a pass intended for Hill, he helped limit him to 40 yards. Gonzalez even shadowed Hill in critical situations starting in the second quarter, right after the Pats lost another outside corner, Marcus Jones, to a shoulder injury.
“It was an adjustment,” Gonzalez said, “and we just went with it.”
Hill finished with fewer than 1.5 yards per route run, according to the NBC broadcast, the lowest single-game average of his Dolphins career.