Just a few weeks ago, I wrote an article titled “No Brady, No Problem”. I felt that the Patriots would be in good shape for the duration of Tom Brady’s 4-game suspension. Last night, the Patriots took their biggest test without Brady, traveling to Arizona for a Week 1 Sunday Night Football prime time matchup with the Cardinals.
Since 2009, the Patriots have played virtually every down with either Tom Brady or Rob Gronkowski, or both on the field. Last night, New England took zero snaps with their two offensive superstars. Even with the lack of Brady and Gronk, the Pats were able to take down one of the top Super Bowl contenders in the NFL by a score of 23-21.
The big storyline heading into Sunday night was how Brady’s suspension replacement, Jimmy Garoppolo, would fare against a highly talented Arizona defense. The results were better than expected. Garoppolo got off to a flying start, slinging the ball up and down the field on his first drive, ultimately throwing an impressive dime down the left sideline to new Patriots acquisition, Chris Hogan for a 37-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead. That was Garoppolo’s only touchdown on the night, but Jimmy G was able to lead some great drives that resulted in a LeGarrette Blount touchdown and three field goals to help secure a Patriots win. Jimmy G did have one big fumble that lead to a Cardinals touchdown, but he had a clean game otherwise going 24-33 for 264 yards and a TD. While Garoppolo was impressive in the victory, it would not have been able to be done without help from his teammates.
One extremely valuable contributor was Patriots wide receiver Julian Edelman, who showed his toughness and swagger. Edelman was crucial in getting open for the young Quarterback and converting key third downs. Number 11 was able to amass 7 receptions for 66 yards. Along with Edelman, the Patriots receivers as a whole looked solid. Chris Hogan, Danny Amendola, and Malcolm Mitchell made some big plays and that was a good sign moving forward.
Along with the receivers, the running backs and offensive line created a run game that helped alleviate some of the pressure on Garoppolo. Blount was able to run for 70 yards on 22 carries and a touchdown where he carried about 5 Cardinals defenders on his back. James White was surprising as well in the passing game, helping Garoppolo get rid of the ball quickly by heading to the flat. The makeshift offensive line did struggle at times, but overall, they did better than expected in keeping Garoppolo upright.
Overall, the Patriots exceeded expectations in their opening game. Many experts doubted their abilities without their top talent, including the oddsmakers who put them at a 9.5 point underdog. The Patriots always have room to improve as head coach Bill Belichick will always suggest, but last night was a great sign and will be a game to build off, even if they were given a bit of good luck in the final seconds by a missed field goal.