When Tom Brady got suspended for the first four games of the 2016 season, it seemed as though the Patriots’ whole year could end up a failure — a shocking twist for the team that has won the AFC East in 13 of the last 15 years. Hope was lost until something remarkable happened: Jimmy Garoppolo took over and everything was fine.
Garoppolo was drafted in the second round with the 62nd pick of the 2014 draft. Brady has been grooming the Eastern Illinois product similar to how Brett Favre groomed Aaron Rodgers in Green Bay. Garoppolo showed he was ready for his chance during the first game of the season against the Arizona Cardinals.
The Brady suspension was not the only obstacle the Patriots had to hurdle. Rob Gronkowski went down with a hamstring injury and was unavailable to play, and running back Dion Lewis was placed on the PUP list. Nothing was looking up for Garoppolo, but he didn’t seem fazed by any of it. He went out and threw for 264 yards and one touchdown en route to a 23-21 upset over a team that many feel is a Super Bowl contender.
Going into week two, the Patriots seemed like they were in a perfect position to cruise through the first four games while waiting for the cavalry. Clearly, Garoppolo was poised enough to handle the situation at hand, which he proved with his early play against the Miami Dolphins. The most beautiful quarterback in the NFL threw for 234 yards and three touchdowns by the second quarter, when every Patriots fan’s worst nightmare came true. Garoppolo took a crushing hit from linebacker Kiko Alonso, spraining his AC joint and knocking him out of the game. Surely that play was a sign from the football gods that this season was not going to go well for the Pats, right?
Enter Jacoby Brissett, the Patriots’ third-string quarterback and only other active quarterback on the roster. Brissett was drafted in the third round with the 91st pick this past spring. It’s unfathomable that a rookie would be able to hold on to the lead, especially when the Patriots defense was without their best player in Rob Ninkovich, who was also suspended for the first four games. Brissett defied the odds and proved everyone wrong, leading the Patriots to a field goal, a touchdown and an ultimate 31-24 victory. It appears that they will have to lean on Brissett again in week three if they want to win against the Texans, who have one of, if not the, best defenses in the NFL.
The success of the Patriots’ backups leads to a more important question: how are they able to sustain such a high level of play without most of their key players? Everyone has heard about “the Patriot way,” but that mentality will only take you to a certain level before pure ability becomes necessary. The answer is a surprise to nobody. Head coach Bill Belichick is one of the smartest coaches in NFL history, and has the uncanny ability to find great players, particularly quarterbacks, later in the draft than you might expect. Belichick has the unique ability to retool his team without getting rid of the old players first. However, when he does get rid of the old players, it always seems to be at the perfect time. For example, the Pats got rid of Darrelle Revis after their most recent Super Bowl victory, the same one that was capped by an interception by Malcolm Butler, who has stepped into a starting role. Revis, now with the Jets, has not been able to return to his old self, which was proven when the Bills’ Marquise Goodwin burned him for an 84-yard touchdown in Week 2. Belichek seems to have a sixth sense of when it’s time to retool.
Tom Brady is at the end of his quarterbacking rope. While he is still the best quarterback in the league, he won’t be around forever. Garoppollo and Brissett are the Patriots 2.0, something they proved they can handle until week four. We’ve gotten a brief glimpse of the Patriots’ future and it looks bright, an impressive feat for a team without its star players.