Welcome to the first installment of a four-part series documenting Jimmy Garoppolo’s maiden voyage in the NFL, as Tom Brady watches the Patriots’ first four games from home due to his Deflategate suspension.
I didn’t see that coming. Nobody saw that coming. Even the most optimistic Patriots followers saw the Pats’ Sunday night date with the Cardinals in Arizona as a destitute operation without Tom Brady at the helm. To make matters worse, Rob Gronkowski was sidelined at the last minute with a hamstring injury. Most pundits had already ticked a “1” in the L column for the old Pats.
The Patriots, however, set the tone of the game early by stopping the Cardinals on their opening possession and answered with a touchdown of their own. Out of the gate, Jimmy Garoppolo displayed surprising maturity and calm in the pocket, and on his touchdown throw to Chris Hogan, he expertly read the defense and fired a strike into Hogan’s breadbasket.
Though the game was a seesaw battle that saw both teams make crucial mental mistakes, Garoppolo’s play, for the most part, was consistent. His most impressive moments came late in the fourth quarter when he drove 61 yards to set up what would end up being the game-winning field goal. On that drive, Garoppolo completed two crucial third-down passes. The latter, to James White, was Garoppolo’s shining moment of the game. On an absolutely essential third down and three, he fired a strike to White, threading the needle between two defenders for a first down that kept the Patriots’ drive alive. Had they not been able to continue the drive, the Cardinals, having recently picked up important momentum against the Patriots’ defense, may well have drained the clock and scored to put the game out of reach.
Let’s knock this question out right now. If Jimmy Garoppolo continues to improve over the next three games, is there a chance he’ll take Tom Brady’s job as starting quarterback? The answer is and has been a stern, unequivocal “no” from Bill Belichick. What if, people will ask, Brady replaces a thriving Garoppolo and proceeds to play poorly for his first few games? That just isn’t going to happen. All evidence points to Brady returning from his suspension and playing to his usual high standards.
The last time Tom Brady missed a significant amount of playing time was in 2008 after a season-ending knee injury was dealt to him by Bernard Pollard in the season opener in Kansas City. Brady returned in 2009 to start the season at 6-2, which by the Patriots’ standards is adequate, but all things considered, is a very impressive start.
Brady also plays better when he’s angry. Rest assured, he is angry right now. One of the greatest and most fiery competitors in this era of sports, Brady is being tortured by not being able to play this entire season, especially as his age indicates his remaining years in the NFL are numbered. Tom Brady will take the reigns with a vengeance in week five, and mark my words, he will take the league by storm.
That Jimmy Garoppolo was prepared to play well when his time came shouldn’t surprise people. The Patriots have a 15-year history of backup quarterbacks who end up playing well as starters. This trend obviously starts with Tom Brady and continues to Matt Cassel who started multiple seasons for the Chiefs, Bryan Hoyer who started for the Browns and Texans, Ryan Mallet who split time with Hoyer in Houston and finally Jimmy Garoppolo. This high volume of successful once-backups speaks to the way the Patriots draft smart leaders as quarterbacks, not necessarily big name college stars.
Whereas many had resigned the Patriots to losing their first game, all eyes will be on Jimmy Garoppolo Sunday to see whether he can repeat his golden debut outing against a division rival, the Miami Dolphins. It is one thing for Jimmy Garoppolo to play well “with house money,” but now that fans and teammates have expectations from Garoppolo, it will be interesting to see how he copes with this additional pressure.
Next in line to start for the Patriots is Charlie Blasberg. In the meantime, he can be reached at email@example.com. Please send responses to this opinion to firstname.lastname@example.org and other op-eds to email@example.com.