Jimmy Garoppolo serving as the New England Patriots’ fill-in quarterback during Tom Brady’s Deflategate suspension is one of the more compelling storylines of this young NFL season. Well, it is to most people, at least.
New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick, on the other hand, doesn’t concern himself with such things, as he made abundantly clear following his team’s 23-21 win over the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday night.
During Belichick’s postgame news conference, a reporter asked him what the prevailing storyline of Sunday’s regular-season opener would be: that Garoppolo put forth a fine performance in his first NFL start or that the Patriots watered down the game plan to help the young quarterback.
“I mean, I’m really, really concerned about the storyline,” Belichick responded, sarcasm dripping from each word. “Like, there’s really nothing higher on my list than the storyline (Monday). We beat a good team on the road. We’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s all of us: coaching, playing, offense, defense, special teams. That’s what I saw in the game. But I can’t wait to read it (Monday).”
Storylines aside, Garoppolo impressed against the Cardinals’ formidable defense, completing 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards and one touchdown. He lost one fumble but didn’t throw an interception.
Some additional notes from a wild Sunday night in the desert:
— The Patriots leaped out to an early 7-0 lead after Garoppolo hit Chris Hogan for a 37-yard touchdown on New England’s first offensive drive. It was just the second touchdown pass of Garoppolo’s NFL career and Hogan’s first catch — and touchdown — as a member of the Patriots.
“This is awesome,” Hogan told reporters after the game. “I don’t even have words to express what this probably means to the whole team. Coming out here, playing on the road in a tough environment against a really good team, we were able to really execute out there and just battle the entire four quarters. I am just happy for everyone in here and Jimmy. This is huge.”
Hogan finished with three catches for 60 yards.
— Julian Edelman caught all seven passes Garoppolo threw his way, including three on the aforementioned early touchdown drive. The scrappy wide receiver led all Patriots pass-catchers with 66 receiving yards and also picked up 16 yards on three rushes.
— The Patriots were highly efficient on third down, picking up the necessary yardage on 10 of their 16 opportunities. They converted three third downs on their final offensive series, which culminated in a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that put New England ahead for good.
“The game comes down to third down, red area and turnovers,” Edelman told reporters. “We lost the turnover battle, which kept the game closer than we wanted to (and) gave them a little more opportunity. But we were able to go in there and do really well on third down. I don’t know what the stat is, I haven’t seen it. And the red area, we didn’t really get in there too much.
“It would have been good to get some more touchdowns, but third downs were a big help.”
The Cardinals scored 14 points off two Patriots turnovers — fumbles by Garoppolo and running back LeGarrette Blount.
— Let’s all take a moment to appreciate Cardinals running back David Johnson, who ripped off what might have been the best run of Week 1 during a fourth-quarter touchdown drive.
That run accounted for 45 of Johnson’s 89 rushing yards on the night, and the Patriots otherwise did a fine job of keeping the fantasy darling in check.
“First and foremost, we had to stop the run,” Patriots defensive end Chris Long told reporters after the game. “Maybe we didn’t do that all the time, but we were able to come through and make some big plays when it counted. They’re a really explosive football team, they’re a great football team, and we expected it to be tough, and it was.”
–Also deserving of praise is ageless Cardinals wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald, who caught eight passes for 81 yards and two touchdowns (including the 100th of his career) and would have been the star of the game had Arizona been able to pull out a win.
“He’s a good player,” Belichick said of the 33-year-old wideout. “He made a lot of good plays.”
— As he did throughout the preseason, Long looked like his old self against the Cardinals.
The ninth-year pro was a disruptive force throughout the night, finishing with three tackles, one sack, one tackle for loss and one quarterback hit. He was slow to get up after colliding with teammate Jamie Collins on the final play of the first half, but he remained in the game and was back on the field to begin the third quarter.
Long also sat down with NBC sideline reporter Michele Tafoya before the game, and he brought his young son Waylon along with him.
— The Patriots were the only AFC East team to prevail Sunday. The New York Jets, Miami Dolphins and Buffalo Bills lost their three games by a total of nine points.
Thumbnail photo via Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY Sports Images