GLENDALE, Ariz. — He’s a couple inches shorter, a decade and a half younger, and a few ticks faster (with the same chiseled good looks), but New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo played quite a bit like Tom Brady on Sunday night in his first NFL start.
Garoppolo studied Brady as a kid and has played under him for two years. And Garoppolo, like Brady has, thrived on short passes, accuracy and quality decisions in the Patriots’ 23-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals.
Garoppolo went 24-of-33 passing for 264 yards and one touchdown with no interceptions. He averaged 8 yards per attempt even if it seemed like every pass he threw traveled just 5 yards in the air at University of Phoenix Stadium.
And he did it with the difficulty level notched up almost impossibly high.
Garoppolo didn’t have the Patriots’ starting running back, tight end, left or right tackle and right guard at his disposal. His opponent, the Cardinals, made the NFC Championship Game in 2015 and was expected to be even better in 2016. Garoppolo even had to lead the Patriots on a game-winning, fourth-quarter drive.
“I didn’t really think about it too much, I guess,” Garoppolo said about the potential obstacles. “They are a very talented defense, and that’s a good group of players out there. They gave us all we could handle tonight. It was a good test for us. Whoever is out there, we have confidence in one another, and that’s a good thing we have going for us.”
Most of all, Garoppolo proved he’s more Brady than previous Patriots backups Matt Cassel, Brian Hoyer, Ryan Mallett or Kevin O’Connell. Garoppolo could start in the NFL today. He did. And won.
An NFL scout texted midway through the game, “Some people think he’s better than a third of (the starting quarterbacks in the) league.”
Sure, that only means Garoppolo would be a below-average starter, but he’s also in his third NFL season and just made the first start of his career.
“Getting the ball to wide-open guys is harder than you think,” the scout continued. “He found (Chris) Hogan on that drive (for a 37-yard touchdown pass). And for some QBs, they just miss that all the time. Hoyer was like that. If you can make the obvious throws, you can be a solid QB. (New York Jets quarterback) Ryan Fitzpatrick held out being the safe-throw guy.”
Patriots coach Bill Belichick wasn’t overly effusive in his praise of Garoppolo, but he did applaud his young QB.
“It’s been good,” Belichick said. “He made some good plays. It’s not perfect, but he made a lot of good plays. Like I said, it’s a tough place to play, and it’s a good defense.”
The job should get a little easier for Garoppolo in his three games before Brady returns from his four-game Deflategate suspension. Garoppolo will play the Miami Dolphins, Houston Texans and Buffalo Bills, who went a combined 1-2 Sunday, at Gillette Stadium, and some of those injured Patriots players should be back for those games.
Garoppolo did the unreasonable in beating the Cardinals. And he made himself some money, as this game alone would make a QB-needy team give up a first-round draft pick for him. With three more games under Garoppolo’s belt, the Patriots will be drooling over their expected compensation.
Thumbnail photo via Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY Sports Images