It appears Jimmy Garoppolo has been a good study.
With Tom Brady away on a four-game sabbatical, it was time for the third-year apprentice to put his teachings to the test. And by most accounts, Garoppolo passed the first (and perhaps most difficult) of his quarterly assessments Sunday in putting the New England Patriots in position to beat the Arizona Cardinals, though the 23-21 victory was nearly spoiled in the final seconds.
Behind a shambled offensive line and without star tight end Rob Gronkowski, Garoppolo completed 24 of his 33 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. He also led the 13-play, 61-yard drive in the fourth quarter that set up a 32-yard field goal by Stephen Gostkowski to give the Patriots their two-point lead with 3:44 to play.
The Cardinals used the time left and drove 63 yards on the ensuing possession, but Chandler Catanzaro missed wide left on a 47-yard field goal attempt with 33 seconds remaining and the Patriots escaped University of Phoenix Stadium with a win to open the season.
The stingy Cardinals defense stood as the toughest New England would face before Brady can return Week 5, and odds were against Garoppolo.
Making his first start since staring at Eastern Illinois, Garoppolo looked the part and made deft passes, distributing evenly among the Patriots' restocked offensive weapons.
One of them was underrated wide receiver Chris Hogan, who New England nabbed from the Bills in the offseason. In his fourth season as an undrafted free agent out of Monmouth, Hogan was on the receiving end of a 37-yard Garoppolo touchdown pass on the game's opening drive.
Garoppolo didn't earn all A's, though.
The Cardinals scored 14 points on Patriots turnovers, the first of which being a fumble by Garoppolo on a strip sack in the second quarter. It led to the first of Larry Fitzgerald's two touchdown catches. And LeGarrette Blount's third-quarter fumble the Cardinals turned into a 1-yard David Johnson touchdown run.
When the Patriots settled for a field goal with 12:35 to play, Arizona drove 79 yards in under 3 minutes to set up a 1-yard touchdown catch by Fitzgerald, who became the 10th player in NFL history with 100 touchdown catches. It gave the Cardinals a 21-20 lead, their first of the game, that was erased on the next drive by Gostkowski's winner.
The Patriots' victory was the 10th decided by one score or less on Sunday.