Jimmy Garoppolo is 1-0 as an NFL starter. There are so many impossibilities that go along with that statement, including that the third-year New England Patriots quarterback accomplished the feat in Arizona, against many people’s (us included) favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. He also did it without the league’s best tight end, Rob Gronkowski , or the team’s two starting tackles, all-purpose back Dion Lewis or, obviously, Tom Brady .
None of that mattered, of course, because the one constant remained: Bill Belichick. That’s how the legend goes, anyway. Either way, here’s what’s not up for dispute (and what we figured all along): The Pats will be fine without Brady for the first month of the season, partly because of Belichick’s ability to prepare his players for every eventuality and situation, no matter how unlikely. But mostly because all Garoppolo had to do was play up to the level of the last guy to replace Brady for any length of time: Matt Cassel .
Back in 2008, Cassel started 15 games after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1. Cassel, a former seventh-round pick, hadn’t started a game since high school, and was just as raw and inexperienced as you’d expect. But Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels constantly put him in positions to succeed. By the end of the season, he had helped the team to an 11-5 record.
Also not hurting Garoppolo’s chances: The Pats play in the laugh-out-loud funny AFC East which, as of late Sunday evening, have exactly one team sitting at 1-0. We’ve said for weeks that New England can finish 1-3 to start the season and Brady will still lead them to a division title and the playoffs. Nothing’s changed. In fact, with the Miami Dolphins , Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills next on the schedule, it seems perfectly reasonable that Garoppolo could give way to Brady on October 9 and the Pats could be 3-1, or worst case, 2-2.
If nothing else, this victory — on the road against a very good team — highlights the differences between Belichick and Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles and Adam Gase — the three other AFC East coaches who all had chances to win on Sunday.
Here are nine takeaways from the Patriots’ win on Sunday night.
1. Bench Brady for Garoppolo!
We’re guessing somebody brings this up on Boston radio, probably by Monday morning. If nothing else, it gives us a reason to link to this:
BREAKING: Tom Brady will work out for Major League Baseball teams tomorrow morning.
— Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) September 12, 2016
And while we look forward to someone asking Belichick about Brady’s status on the depth chart, the more likely scenario is that the Patriots will showcase Garoppolo over the next three games, have him return to backup duties once Brady’s reinstated, and then flip him for a first- or second-round pick this offseason.
For now, the Pats have to be pleased with how well Garoppolo played; the big concern this preseason was that he held onto the ball too long, and while he took a few hits as the game progressed, that makeshift offensive line, like Garoppolo, outperformed expectations. When it was over, Garopppolo was 24 of 33 for 264 yards and a touchdown. By comparison, his counterpart, Carson Palmer finished 24 of 37 for 271 yards and two touchdowns.
Unlike Palmer, who got off to a glacial start, Garoppolo’s opening drive was nine plays, 74 yards and ended with Chris Hogan sashaying into the end zone:
2. Arizona Cardinals have big issues at (one) cornerback
It’s not Brandon Williams ‘ fault. The rookie was toasted above by Hogan, and again later in the game by Malcolm Mitchell that would set up another Patriots’ touchdown, but the Cardinals’ gaping need at cornerback forced him into the lineup ( Justin Bethel is injured and Marcus Cooper still learning the defense). It’s a lot to ask of any rookie, but Williams was a running back his first three years at Texas A&M and only converted to cornerback as a senior. It showed Sunday night.
The good news is that the Cardinals’ defense is still really good, and the secondary includes Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu . And Williams, who had a forgettable night, can only improve too.
3. David Johnson is legit
Not many people knew about David Johnson last season, probably because he was a third-round pick out of Northern Iowa and, well, there aren’t much in the way of rookie expectations for third-round picks out of Northern Iowa.
But a late-season surge put him on the map for Fantasy football nerds, and now, after his performance on Sunday night, we’re all acquainted with his game-changing versatility. He had 16 carries for 89 yards and a score, and added another 43 receiving yards.
He also spent the evening juking would-be Pats tacklers out of their shorts. Behold:
4. Please don’t ever retire, Larry Fitzgerald
The 13-year vet and future first-ballot Hall of Famer deserved better. He put the Cardinals on his back in the fourth quarter, marching the offense down the field to set up what the go-ahead touchdown, and later, what should have been the game-winning field goal.
That touchdown reception, by the way, was the 100th of his career, and was one of the best grabs of the weekend:
It’s hard to believe Fitzgerald is just 33 — it seems like he’s been in the league for two decades — but he remains the Cardinals’ most reliable weapon.
5. About that missed field goal …
Chandler Catanzaro said before the game that he felt comfortable on any kick inside 60 yards. So the 47-yarder he lined up for with 41 seconds on the clock and the Cardinals trailing, 23-21, shouldn’t have been a problem.
And it probably wouldn’t have been had the snap not been low:
Yes, timing is an important facet of kicking field goals, but when the ball is sitting up like that, it’s hard to blame a low snap (not that Catanzaro did, but for those pointing fingers at the long snapper).
6. There was a penalty for choreographed celebration
Following a Garoppolo second-quarter fumble recovered by Arizona, three Cardinals’ defenders were flagged for … choreography!
It’s somehow more ludicrous than it sounds. So ludicrous, in fact, that Twitter was the voice of reason:
Penalty for a choreographed dance? I wish they gave a freakin’ NFL award for BEST choreographed dance.
— Aaron Schatz (@FO_ASchatz) September 12, 2016
Hope no one got CTE from that brutal choreographed demonstration.
— Chris Jones (@MySecondEmpire) September 12, 2016
Choreographed? I dunno, I mean, it’s not the Cardinals did an OK Go video.
— Michael Schwartz (@MikeMSchwartz) September 12, 2016
My celebration rule would just be delay of game: If your celebration delays the game, five yards. If it doesn’t, celebrate all you want.
— Michael David Smith (@MichaelDavSmith) September 12, 2016
7. Tom Brady’s whereabouts, in case you’re curious
Continuing with the ludicrousness, here are all the things Brady can’t do while he’s suspended:
But don’t worry, Roger Goodell is “100 percent” certain that he got Deflategate right.
8. Because potato guns would leave a mark …
Fans really love free t-shirts. And to meet that demand, it only makes sense that somebody would develop a Gatling gun to dispense them 10 times faster:
9. Next up
Next Sunday, the Patriots (1-0) host the Dolphins (0-1) at 1 p.m. ET while the Cardinals (0-1) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (1-0) at 4:05 p.m. ET. If the Cards fall to 0-2, the complexion of the NFC suddenly changes.
Source: CBS Sports Headlines / Shorthanded Patriots earn impressive win with Jimmy Garoppolo: 9 takeaways