Garopollo Set to Go From Jimmy Who? to Best-Known Backup

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Jimmy Garoppolo
Jimmy Garoppolo of the New England Patriots looks on against the Indianapolis Colts during the game at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis, Indiana, on Nov. 16, 2014. Photographer: Joe Robbins/Getty Images

Tom Brady’s backup at the New England Patriots is about to go from a virtual unknown to the most famous No. 2 quarterback in the National Football League.

Unless two-time Most Valuable Player and four-time Super Bowl winner Brady succeeds in reducing or overturning a four-game suspension for his part in a ball-deflating scandal, Jimmy Garoppolo will start under center for New England in the NFL’s season opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Sept. 10.

Garoppolo played in six games for New England last year, completing 19 of 27 passes for one touchdown and no interceptions. He was taken as the 62nd overall pick in the second round of the 2014 draft after starting all 45 games that he appeared in for Eastern Illinois University, where he completed 1,047 of 1,668 career passes for 13,151 yards, 118 touchdowns and 51 interceptions.

“He’s got it all,” former San Francisco 49ers and Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci told the NFL Network. “He’s tough, he’s smart. It’s just a matter of getting him enough practice time, preseason time to get him ready.”

Brady was disciplined by the NFL after an investigation concluded he probably knew two team employees, who have been suspended indefinitely, were deflating game balls below minimum allowable pressures, which can make them easier to throw and catch. The Patriots were also stripped of a first-round draft pick next year and a fourth-round selection in 2017, and were fined $1 million.

Next Opponents

Following the home game against the Steelers, Garoppolo may also have to face the Buffalo Bills at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough, Massachusetts, and lead the Patriots’ offense on the road at the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Even though he’s suspended, Brady can participate in all offseason, training camp and preseason activities, including exhibition games, the NFL said in its statement Monday announcing his punishment.

“Tom’s been incredibly available for Jimmy,” Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said three days before New England beat the Seattle Seahawks 28-24 in the Feb. 1 Super Bowl. “Jimmy’s a sponge and Tom’s not afraid to tell him as much as he can. The one thing Tom knows is that, if something happens to Tom, he needs Jimmy to be ready. There’s no selfishness at all on that front.”

Garoppolo played the entire second half in the Patriots’ regular-season finale, a 17-9 loss to Buffalo in which the 23-year-old completed 10 of 17 passes for no touchdowns or interceptions. The Patriots trailed 17-6 when Garoppolo entered the game.

Bledsoe’s Replacement

Garoppolo will try to make the same impact as a starter that Brady did when he stepped in for Drew Bledsoe in 2001. Brady, in his second season in the NFL, went 5-3 when Bledsoe was sidelined with a chest injury and was named the starter for the rest of the season. Brady went on to lead the Patriots to victory in the Super Bowl the following February, the first of his four NFL titles, and Bledsoe was traded to the Bills.

Others have had success as Brady’s backup without managing to oust the three-time Super Bowl MVP. In 2008, Matt Cassel guided the team to an 11-5 record after Brady tore knee ligaments in the first quarter of the team’s opening game.

Garoppolo said Jan. 29 that the one thing Brady has taught him is to be prepared.

“Being the backup quarterback, you’re one snap away; you’ve got to play like that,” he said during Super Bowl week. “I’ve definitely gotten more confident throughout the year. Growing from being a rookie in minicamp to where I am now, I feel a lot more confident.”

The Patriots are two-point favorites over the Steelers, according to the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook, down from six- to 6 1/2-point favorites in the week before Brady was suspended.

“They’ll get him ready but it’s going to be tough to win two or three of those games against some really formidable opponents,” Mariucci said. “Garoppolo’s going to have to hold down the fort for four games, try to win two or three and, if they do, they will be back in that driver’s seat to win that division.”

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