Only talk show hosts and player agents manage to put any permanent stock into unexpected Week 1 performances in the National Football League. So it’s only practical to understand who or what is driving the narrative while the likes of James Conner receives whispers of comparison to Le’Veon Bell in one corner, but Jonas Gray in another.
Which might be why you’ve heard about the sudden demise of old friend Jimmy Garoppolo.
After escaping the Houston Texans and exposed blockhead Bill O’Brien Sunday in their season opener, the New England Patriots have officially turned the page on what was considered a tumultuous offseason — one filled with enough soap opera storylines to create a separate subdivision at TMZ. Yet, for all the hand-wringing that defined training camp, 41-year-old Tom Brady looks like 30-year-old Tom Brady, Rob Gronkowski still looks interested in football, Phillip Dorsett might be the answer at wide receiver, and the defensive front…well, the Patriots presumably now have one.
What me worry, indeed.
Even if the 27-20 victory over Houston didn’t come without its own laundry list of flaws, it was enough to retrieve the cocky mojo that normally defines the New England fan base. Bill Belichick, the man who was single-handedly considered by some the diabolical architect of the Patriots’ loss to the Philadelphia Eagles in the Super Bowl, is suddenly Midas again. Brady, fresh off an offseason during which he skipped workouts and increasingly got bristly at any questions surrounding his workout guru Alex Guerrero, looks like he could play beyond five years. And it all has some Pats fans singing a familiar refrain.
“I told ya.”
That brings us to Jimmy Garoppolo’s season debut in Minnesota Sunday, a performance that ranks somewhere in the midst of Matt Gutierrez among memorable outings by a former Brady backup.
Garoppolo, the one-time presumed heir apparent to Brady in New England — and now merely to be considered the next Joe Montana in San Francisco — was awful in his season debut with the 49ers, throwing three interceptions (including a pick-six) in a 24-16 loss to the Minnesota Vikings. Garoppolo completed only 15 of his 33 passes on the day for 261 yards and a touchdown. His 45.1 quarterback rating was the worst of anyone who played quarterback for a full game Sunday (Marcus Mariota was 29th with a 36.2 rating on only 16 passes) or not named Nathan Peterman (Zero point zero).
It was the first loss of Garoppolo’s headline-storied career, and, granted, while the excuse can be made that it came against one of the NFC’s most ferocious defenses in the Vikings, it was a performance that got lost in a pool of NFL mediocrity.
“You never want to lose,” Garoppolo said. “It sucks.”
He’s now 7-1 in eight career starts in the NFL.
Brady, meanwhile, improved to a regular season career mark of 197-55-0 with his win over the Texans.
Cue the refrains.
As we quickly approach the one-year anniversary of what was considered a franchise-altering maneuver, Brady and Garoppolo promise to provide a sidebar for the remainder of the season, and if that’s the case, then Brady can safely consider himself a victor during Week 1. It was a good day for the camp that believes Brady can likely play until he considers dungarees proper attire for eating supper. For the crowd that preposterously has already tabbed the 26-year-old Garoppolo the next best thing in the NFL, let’s just say there will be better days.
In Foxborough, the premise of the Next Great Thing at quarterback is about as topical a discussion as what’s on sale this week at Circuit City. It is a discussion we had for a short while these past few years, when Garoppolo was in town breathing down Brady’s neck from the sideline, reminding the future Hall of Famer that football mortality was an inevitability. Brady, in turn, used the ways of Guerrero’s all-powerful Force to make himself a better quarterback in his late 30’s than he was in his early 30’s, throttling New England to a pair of Super Bowl victories with Garoppolo merely waiting a turn that would never come under Belichick.
The coach, as the story goes, was forced to trade his binky after Brady went to owner Bob Kraft pleading his case. Belichick landed only a second-round pick in the exchange with the 49ers last October, only months after trade talk surrounding Garoppolo was believed to be starting at two first-rounders. It was a move presumed as a thumb of his nose at the Krafts and TB12 camps that made the trade necessary in the first place.
After all, Belichick seemed ready to move onto Garoppolo, a guy just entering his prime. Except, he can’t get rid of the old goat jamming up the works, and that guy doesn’t seem to have the expiration date that otherwise follows everybody else.
It’s a win-win for the Patriots, Kraft, Brady, and TB12. But it’s a loss for Garoppolo and Belichick, who still manages to get the win on Sunday against Houston.
If we want to simplify things down to the incessant bar argument that debates who deserves more credit for the Patriots’ run of success these past 17 years, Brady is in the lead. After all, if Belichick were ultimately allowed to have his way for the way he wanted to progress, Garoppolo very well might have started for the Patriots on Sunday, while it was Brady going up against the Vikings for the 49ers. How might this season have started if the Krafts hadn’t forced Belichick’s hand at the trading deadline last season? It’s worth keeping an eye on the pieces to imagine what Bizarro Patriot Place looks like.
Consider it in those terms, and this was a much bigger victory for Brady than the box score might indicate.
Garoppolo should rebound. Or, he might be the next version of the Brian Hoyer currently carrying clipboards at Gillette.
The NFL season began with Brady doing what he does while a former backup struggled elsewhere. Some development there.
Brady, 1. Garoppolo, 0. Belichick, push.