Patriots

The small blessing of Tom Brady’s suspension? Patriots will find out about Jimmy Garoppolo

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COMMENTARY

Stop me if you’ve heard this one before:

Franchise quarterback suffers a devastating hit that knocks him out of the lineup for a significant amount of time. In his absence, the understudy — who is more handsome than the vast majority of understudies, of course — seizes the opportunity so spectacularly that the team goes on to win that Super Bowl, the gracious former starter gets traded to Buffalo, and the whole thing turns Marshall Faulk into a bitter shell of a man?

All right, I’ll ask: Can Jimmy Garoppolo stake a claim to Tom Brady’s job in a storybook manner similar to how Brady turned alleged franchise quarterback Drew Bledsoe into a tall, strong-armed clipboard holder during the 2001 season?

Well, I mean … let’s think about this … Garoppolo did look capable in the preseason … and he showed mobility and a decent arm during the season finale versus the Bills, his most significant playing time … and he drew rave reviews for his Russell Wilson imitation on the scout team during prep for Super Bowl XLIX … could it really happen? …

Snap out of it, man! C’mon, are you kidding me?

Hell no, of course that scenario is not happening. A storybook tale like Brady’s occurs just once in a fan’s lifetime — once if you’re blessed. While both Bledsoe and Brady were blindsided by someone who once worked for the Jets — Mo Lewis and Roger Goodell, respectively — that’s pretty much the sole commonality here.

While Bledsoe’s sluggish start in ’01 was a symptom of his ultimate career stagnation, Brady just won his fourth Super Bowl, and even entering his age-38 season, he’s as sharp and motivated as ever.

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Actually, I’m not sure he could be more motivated than usual, but if it’s possible, it will happen this year, given his four-game suspension for “general awareness” of some irrelevant gamesmanship with the preparation of footballs.

A vengeful Brady is an unstoppable Brady. And “vengeful” may not be a strong enough adjective to describe what he will unleash on the league in Week 6 against the Colts, when he is currently scheduled to return.

Given that he’s apparently assembling an all-star team of lawyers, up to and including the ghost of Johnnie Cochran, it won’t be a shock if he misses fewer than four games. Especially if Ghost Cochran drops the can’t-miss line: “If it hardly deflates, you must reinstate.”

Though a reduction in the suspension seems likely, it will be a bummer to see Brady miss any time. He’s still at the top of his game, yes, and should remain there at least for the coming season.

But did I mention this is his age-38 season coming up? There’s only so much time left on the play clock, and so you hate to see him miss any Sundays (and scattered Mondays) when he should be out there doing his thing as well as any quarterback who ever played the game. He won’t be around forever, even if he’s still playing like he will.

It will be strange watching someone else lead the Patriots’ huddle. Since Brady nudged aside Bledsoe — hey, there’s no shame in being the second-best quarterback in a franchise’s history — only one other quarterback has started a game in 14 seasons. Matt Cassel made himself a lot of money with a capable performance over 15 3/4 games in 2008 after Bernard Pollard’s helmet shredded Brady’s knee.

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Garoppolo probably will become the second. If he starts the first four games, that should offer a reasonable clue — perhaps even confirmation — on whether he truly is capable of being Brady’s successor.

At the least, Brady’s absence will offer a glimpse at the future. But brother, I’m going to plead with you in advance here: If Garoppolo plays well — and he probably will, given how expertly the Patriots tailored the offense to the inexperienced Cassel’s strengths seven seasons ago — please don’t buy into any manufactured quarterback controversy.

Brady is not Bledsoe circa ’01. And Garoppolo, as promising as he may be, is not Brady. No one else in the history of the sport can match that man’s story, let alone his accomplishment.

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