No, he wasn’t Tom Brady. But the Patriots didn’t ask him to be either.
Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo did just fine in his debut as the interim starter, leading the Patriots to a 23-21 win on the road over the Cardinals.
He did fumble in the first half, and you could tell they were protecting him in several ways.
The early lean on the run was clearly part of the plan, and it set up the kind of play action that made him comfortable. But not pushing the issue before the end of the first half was the kind of conservative play they clearly wouldn’t have made with Brady.
But Brady won’t be back for three more games, so they have to work with what they have. Garoppolo was able to buy himself some time with his feet on occasion, and was 24-of-33 for 264 yards and a touchdown, on a night without star tight end Rob Gronkowski.
That’s fine, because the Patriots don’t need him to be Brady, and coupled with a solid defensive outing and some good luck (a bad snap on a potential game-winning field goal for the Cardinals) it was all he needed to do.
Here are five more things we learned during Sunday Night Football:
1. Nothing that happened to Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer approached the abject disaster category.
But he wasn’t as sharp as we’re used to seeing him, in the first game after his playoff meltdown at Carolina.
In case you had forgotten (let’s hope he has), Palmer threw four interceptions in that loss to the Panthers in the NFC Championship Game. He wasn’t nearly that bad Sunday (that might have been impossible), but he wasn’t what you’d call efficient.
Palmer finished 24-of-37 for 271 yards, and gave them the lead in the fourth quarter, so this may be a bit harsh of a critique against a quality defense.
It’s too soon to panic, as he’s played too well in Arizona for too long. But until he gets back to his pre-playoff form, it’s going to be in the back of a lot of minds.
2. Speaking of people who have played so well in Arizona for so long, Larry Fitzgerald should never retire.
His fourth quarter touchdown grab was the kind he’s made so often, that we may take for granted how good he has been. He entered the season 11th on the all-time receptions and receiving touchdowns lists and 15th in receiving yards.
Nothing he showed Sunday night indicates he’s falling off (eight catches for 81 yards and two touchdowns), though the Cardinals have more weapons around him, which may make it look like he’s not having the same kind of impact.
3. Of all the people who helped Garoppolo Sunday night, veteran assistant coach Dante Scarnecchia has to be near the top of the list.
Because of injuries, the Patriots were starting a pair of backup tackles, two rookie guards and an undrafted center. For those of you not familiar with their personnel (and if you are we’re sufficiently impressed), that would be left tackle Cameron Fleming, left guard Joe Thuney, center David Andrews, right guard Ted Karras and right tackle Marcus Cannon.
Left tackle Nate Solder and guard Jonathan Cooper were among the inactives, and Shaq Mason had a huge cast on his right hand and was able to rotate in at right guard, leaving them with an odd lot of parts to piece together. But knowing they were going to be changing tires on a moving car this year anyway, they brought Scarnecchia out of retirement to administer the pit stop.
4. Cardinals pass-rusher Chandler Jones fell on a fumble early, but he didn’t quite match the production of the guy who replaced him in New England.
Veteran defensive end Chris Long was solid in his Patriots debut, collecting two sacks early and forcing a key holding flag late. That’s the kind of production they need after they shipped Jones to the Cardinals for Cooper and a second-round pick.
Long, 31, is exactly the kind of late-career veteran the Patriots have signed to great effect in the past, and he appears to have found his niche already. And the Patriots parlayed the pick into a pair of promising young players (Thuney in the third round and fourth-round wideout Malcolm Mitchell), in addition to the kind of salary cap flexibility they crave.
The Cardinals are confident Jones will find his form (36.0 sacks in his 55 games with the Patriots), and his fourth-quarter sack energized the crowd. But the Patriots have plenty of potential free agents to pay after the season, so letting Jones go fits their organizational profile.
5. The hit of the night might have belonged to Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman.
Unfortunately, some poor equipment attendant on the Cardinals sideline was the one to pay the price.
In the first quarter, Edelman caught a pass headed out of bounds, but lowered his shoulder just before impact with the unsuspecting adult ballboy. It would have been a solid shot on another player, and some degree of contact may have been hard to avoid.
But it still looked odd, and unnecessarily aggressive.