Like all things in life, sports are unpredictable. Missed field goals, dropped third strikes and buzzer-beaters change the fortunes of teams and players on a dime. Similarly, you may be left bewildered in front of your keyboard when, after preparing to write columns about a back-up quarterback’s saga through his first four starts, he sprains his right AC joint halfway through his second game.
Such was my case when Patriots interim quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo suffered a right shoulder injury late in the second quarter of the Patriots’ game against the Miami Dolphins two weeks ago. So much for “Four Weeks of Jimmy G.”
But if any team can make it work with a rookie third-string quarterback, it is the Patriots.
Jacoby Brissett filled in for the injured Garoppolo for the remainder of the game, and the Patriots were able to hold on for a second straight win.
All eyes were on the former NC State standout thrust into the starting role due to Garoppolo’s injury and entering last week’s showdown against the Texans a supposed playoff contender. Brissett employs a style foreign to most Patriots fans. A quarterback who can run? Who knew such a thing existed? All we had seen in our quarterbacks for the past 15 years was pocket presence, an uncanny ability to read the defense and an adequate arm. Never had Patriots fans encountered an athletic quarterback wearing the hometown colors.
“Fine,” we acquiesced, scared of leaving our comfort zone of quarterbacks who stay in the pocket. “We’ll give him a shot.”
With Brissett, the Patriots — historically known as a pass-heavy team — beat the Texans on the ground. Brissett only attempted 19 passes but ran for 43 yards, including a spectacular touchdown run in the first quarter. LeGarrette Blount reached the century mark for the second straight game, and the defense shut out the Texans en route to a 27-0 victory.
But after all the celebrations had ended, a new dark cloud arose. Brissett had sprained his right thumb and would probably need surgery.
The news of yet another injury left fans and coaches alike scratching their heads. With Tom Brady still suspended and both back-ups injured, would the Patriots be forced to sign someone new? Would Julian Edelman, Brady’s favorite receiver, be forced to take the helm as the starting quarterback?
If Wednesday’s practice was any indication of things to come, though, Garoppolo will start Sunday’s game against Rex Ryan’s Buffalo Bills. After his two-quarter dissection of the Dolphins two weeks ago, Garoppolo will be eager to show off his chops Sunday against another conference rival and stamp an exclamation mark on his tenure as the Patriots’ starting quarterback. But while both Garoppolo and Brissett threw well during the practice, neither made any comment on whether he was ready to play in the upcoming game. But that’s just how Patriots head coach Bill Belichick likes it: Keeping his gameday plans a mystery for the opposition is a pastime of his.
Regardless of the outcome of Sunday’s game against the Bills, the first three weeks of Brady’s suspension have highlighted Belichick’s coaching prowess. As a team, the Patriots have simply outplayed each of their first three opponents, yet each time they did it in a very different way. This speaks to Belichick’s knowledge of how to win in any situation that arises in a football game. Smart, physical, disciplined football is what he preaches, and the results are evident week after week.
With wins in each of their first three games, the Patriots squad sans Brady has exceeded expectations and put themselves in position to make a deep playoff run. They have shown that it doesn’t matter who starts at quarterback because the other aspects of the team, most notably special teams, can still put them in position to win games.