Jimmy Garoppolo and the New England Patriots did it the old fashioned way Sunday night.
They were without several key players, including Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski. The quarterback had never started an NFL game. And against unfavorable odds, they went into Phoenix and beat a very good Arizona Cardinals team on national television to start the 2016 season.
Here are three takeaway’s from last night’s season opener.
New England Patriots Week One Takeaways
Garoppolo Good Under Pressure
Amid all the speculation heading into Sunday night’s feature matchup, Jimmy Garoppolo was calm and collected.
He completed 24 of 33 passes for 264 yards, one touchdown and no interceptions. He was sacked only twice behind an offensive line that played much better than expected. In his first career start, he quieted a lot of doubters, and took control of the offense in a tightly contested game.
The Cardinals blitzed Garoppolo early and did not relent. As expected, they tried to take advantage of a patchwork offensive line and a greenhorn quarterback. But Garoppolo worked quickly and accurately. He converted third downs on a regular basis, and completed six of eight passes for 90 yards when the Cardinals blitzed more than four players. His ability to get the ball out impeccably fast was on full display.
Offensive Line Stands Pat
New England’s offensive line was the team’s biggest question mark going into Sunday night. Rookies Joe Thuney and Ted Karras were the starting guards, and the two starting tackles have been backups their entire careers. All eyes were on Coach Dante Scarnecchia’s group and how they had grown since last season’s untimely end.
The feared Arizona defensive front did some damage, but in the end it did not matter. Old friend Chandler Jones, traded to the Cardinals after last season, had an impressive debut. He finished with five tackles, a sack, and several more quarterback hits that left Garoppolo on his back. The Cardinals also forced three fumbles, and recovered two, one of which was turned to seven points. Still, the Patriots minimized their mistakes, and the line did their part by giving Garoppolo enough time to work.
The Patriots knew that stopping Arizona’s high-powered offense would not be easy. And it wasn’t.
But throughout the game, the Patriots defense came up big, making plays at exactly the right time, and, at the end, taking pressure off of themselves and placing it on Arizona’s offense.
Quarterback Carson Palmer played well, throwing for 271 yards and two touchdowns. Future Hall of Fame wide receiver Larry Fitzgerald had a game-high ten catches for 81 yards, including both passing touchdowns. So how could they have lost?
The game was ultimately decided on a 47-yard field goal attempt by Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro. The kick went wide left and, with four seconds left, Jimmy Garoppolo took a knee to end the game.
But it shouldn’t have come down to that kick. The Cardinals used their last timeout with four minutes left to play, and at the end, could not execute well enough to be in good position. On their final drive, they were marching, but after a holding penalty and a Patriots’ sack, the ball was moved back. It was from there that Catanzaro’s winning bid sailed left of the upright.
The numbers don’t exactly back it up, but the Patriots defense was excellent in crunch time. They bent but never broke, and made very few mistakes. The high-powered offense of Arizona was held to just 21 points on its home field, to the dismay of those who expected a blowout, let alone a victory.