The New England Patriots on Sunday adorned the Gillette Stadium lighthouse with two massive Tom Brady banners — a tribute to the man who, under NFL rules, will not be allowed to set foot in the stadium for the next month.
Brady’s four-game Deflategate suspension officially went into effect Saturday afternoon, relegating the superstar quarterback to a face overlooking the crowd and thrusting his backup, Jimmy Garoppolo, squarely into the spotlight. Not that he wasn’t there already.
Brady forfeited his right to play in Weeks 1 through 4 when he dropped his suspension appeal in mid-July, meaning Garoppolo has known for nearly two months he’d almost certainly begin the regular season as New England’s starting quarterback. But with Brady permitted to take part in training camp and play in the preseason, Garoppolo spent the entire summer in his shadow.
Those days are over.
No more splitting first-team reps. No more pregame uncertainty over which quarterback is starting, as was the case throughout the Patriots’ exhibition slate.
Garoppolo will be New England’s unquestioned No. 1 signal-caller this week in practice, and barring an injury, the third-year pro will make the first regular-season start of his NFL career next Sunday night against the formidable Arizona Cardinals.
“There’s really nothing that can give you the experience of playing in a regular-season game other than playing in them,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said Sunday in a conference call. “Jimmy’s done a great job of working hard for the two-and-a-half years that he’s been here and studying and improving every year in our system and with what he can do in it. He’s going to prepare hard this week and be ready to go in the game.”
After impressing in offseason workouts and training camp, Garoppolo struggled to find consistency during the preseason. He looked excellent against the Chicago Bears, for instance, but took a step back the following week, when he was unable to maintain a rhythm against the Carolina Panthers.
Despite these variations, McDaniels used the word “steady” to describe Garoppolo’s overall preseason performance.
“We’re not going to get too high or too low based on one day or one play or one series or one quarter of football,” McDaniels said. “I think that’s part of playing in this league and trying to do a good job — maintaining a steady state of mind and understanding that there’s a lot of good players on every team we play. There’s a lot of good coaches on the other teams, too, and they’re going to make some plays. Our job is to go out there and try to do the best we can on every snap, and hopefully we make more plays at the end of each game than they do.”
Doing so will not be easy against the Cardinals, who, like the Patriots, fell one win shy of a Super Bowl berth last season. McDaniels’ advice to his first-time starter: Don’t try to be Brady — or anyone else, for that matter.
“I think Jimmy’s got to be himself,” McDaniels said. “… Jimmy’s going to work hard this week to do what we’re asking Jimmy to do, and we’re not going to ask any more (than) that.”
Thumbnail photo via Bob DeChiara/USA TODAY Sports Images