What got Jimmy Garoppolo going before vintage Patriots victory: smelling salts

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  • Jimmy Garoppolo
    Jimmy Garoppolo
    LiveTodayTomorrowvs--|
  • Bill Belichick
    Bill Belichick
    American football coach

GLENDALE, Ariz. – Jimmy Garoppolo took a final knee, the first victory formation of his NFL career, and upon rising was surrounded by teammates patting him on the helmet and grabbing him by the shoulders.

The scoreboard read New England 23, Arizona 21, but it was more than that. The Patriots arrived minus at least five starters due to injury or suspension, none bigger than the guy Garoppolo was replacing – Tom Brady. They were 10-point underdogs in some places, the biggest dogs since before they won their first Super Bowl a decade and a half ago.

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(AP)

Now they’d won again, won without Brady or Rob Gronkowski, won against a great Arizona defense, won with this third-year backup out of Eastern Illinois under center. New England is the NFL’s version of death and taxes – of course it would find a way to overcome the losses, of course it would find a way to win a game few thought it could, of course it would throw out a first-time starter, a guy with 20 career, mop-up duty attempts under his belt and watch him throw for 264 yards and a touchdown and lead a come-from-behind victory.

Of course. And of course the Patriots would spend the postgame following the plan as closely as the one they used to beat Arizona – in this case downplaying and aw-shucking it all – telling everyone that this was just one victory and Garoppolo did well but it wasn’t that big of a deal.

“It was not perfect, but he made a lot of good plays,” Bill Belichick noted.

Except, yeah, it was perfect enough and plenty of a big deal. Garoppolo would leave University of Phoenix Stadium carrying the official game ball, plus a game-worn one as a personal souvenir, in search of his father and family. Not to mention a huge smile and a sense of relief. This was a huge night for him and a huge night for New England, which takes its greatest pride in victories of this sort.

Garoppolo acknowledged being nervous pregame and taking a hit of smelling salts before kickoff because, “it just gets you going.” By the first time he got knocked around by an Arizona defender, though, he said the stage suddenly felt familiar. No more national television, no more loud, sold-out stadium, no more Patrick Patterson and Tyrann Mathieu over there looking to pick you off.

“A hundred yards,” Garoppolo said. “Then it’s just football.”

Oh, Belichick loved this. It is not often New England gets to play the nobody-picked-us-card. It is not often the coach gets to prove everyone wrong and he and his crew correct, and then immediately get to flip the script and downplay it all.

How would he rate Garoppolo’s play?

“Good.”

That’s it?

“Good.”

The storyline Monday will be that Garoppolo, considering expectations, played great, Belichick was told.

“I mean, I’m really, really concerned about the storyline,” Belichick said mockingly. “Like, there’s really nothing higher on my list than the storyline tomorrow. We beat a good team on the road. We’ve got a lot of work to do. That’s all of us: coaching, playing, offense, defense, special teams. That’s what I saw in the game. But, I can’t wait to read it tomorrow.”

The rest of the Patriots were about as emotive. They may have hailed the young quarterback in private, but publicly they were, as always, following their coach’s lead because no matter what Belichick literally said, the truth is the storyline matters. He wants it focused on all 53 Patriots, not merely the quarterback.

New England isn’t New England any other way. If he can draw an oversized portion of the highlight shows and column inches via some entertaining snark, then hey, even better.

“Played well enough to win the game,” receiver Danny Amendola said of Garoppolo.

“He did his job,” receiver Julian Edelman added.

“We had a nice game plan,” Garoppolo said.

Garoppolo finished 24 for 33 for 264 yards and a touchdown. He fumbled once while being sacked but also rushed for 12 yards and even completed a blocked pass to himself for a 3-yard gain. “That was a first,” he said with a smile. “That was just reaction. I guess it worked out.”

Maybe most importantly he began the game with consecutive scoring drives, including going 4 of 5 for 75 yards on the opening drive, capped by a 37-yard touchdown to Chris Hogan. Immediately the Cardinals realized that no matter who wasn’t here, the Patriots still were.

“You look on the field and it didn’t seem like we hesitated much,” Hogan said. “Guys stepped up. Injuries are part of this league. Guys have to step up. Guys made plays out there.”

This is how New England rolls; at least as long as Belichick is around. It’s about attention to detail and preparation and not contemplating excuses. No Brady? No Gronk? An opponent that Belichick himself described as “Super Bowl caliber”?

In the end, everything worked out, right down to Arizona’s Chandler Catanzaro missing a 47-yard would-be lead-taking field goal with 41 seconds to play.

“Obviously, I’m really proud of our entire team here tonight,” Belichick said.

The entire team is 1-0. The entire rest of the AFC East is 0-1. Brady sits for three more games and who knows when Gronk will return, but what’s clear after this night is that New England has a quarterback, and a team ethos, more than capable of weathering the storm.

Death and Taxes and Jimmy Garoppolo.

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