Three things learned in the Patriots' victory over Arizona Sunday night:
1. Jimmy Garoppolo is up for the challenge
Despite the uncertainty that swirled around the New England Patriots in Tom Brady’s absence, the team’s 24-year-old backup quarterback was impressive in his first NFL start Sunday against the Arizona Cardinals. Garoppolo completed 24 of 33 passes, throwing for 264 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ 23-21 season-opening victory. Garoppolo did have a costly fumble, but didn’t throw an interception, and he, like Tom Brady (suspended the first four games, you know) every other week, found a nice rapport with wide receiver Julian Edelman, who caught seven passes for 66 yards. Garoppolo saved his best for when the Patriots needed it most, down by a point, driving his offense down the field for a Stephen Gostkowski field goal that would end up being the difference in the game. It was that sort of game management that we had yet to see from the quarterback, but the 13-play drive delivered a quiet confidence that should go a ways with his teammates, not to mention nervous fans who have to watch their Super Bowl favorite survive the first quarter of the season with a relative unknown. They got to know him a little better Sunday night.
2. Dante Scarnecchia has righted the offensive line’s issues
Well, OK, so it’s one game, but based on how Patriots fans had to be rolling their eyes upon finding out who the starting five were on the offensive line (rookies Ted Karras and Joe Thuney, David Andrews, Cameron Fleming, and Marcus Cannon) the return of the longtime offensive line coach is already having a positive influence. The line, missing Nate Solder and Sebastian Vollmer to injuries, was a steady presence for the Patriots in the win over Arizona, preventing a dangerous Cardinals attack from inflicting too much damage, while presenting enough room for a competent running game. Garoppolo was sacked twice, once by old friend Chandler Jones, and his patented, quick release helped matters all the same. But despite his costly fumble in the second half, LeGarrette Blount was a factor, lending 70 rushing yards, while James White proved to be a useful cog as a pass-catching back, with five catches for 70 yards. In a game in which the Patriots found themselves short, to consider the offensive line not part of that equation was a relative shock.
3. The defense was…good
The Patriots’ defense is going to receive a lot of well-deserved kudos for holding the high-powered Cardinals’ offensive attack to 21 points, and it deserved to take the win home. But poor tackling on David Johnson’s ridiculous 45-yard run helped set up what was a jaw-dropping touchdown grab by Larry Fitzgerald, giving the Cardinals a 21-20 lead with less than 10 minutes to play. Nor should that completely mar what was a unit that seemingly had the Arizona offense in a funk for most of the evening. Carson Palmer ended up with 271 yards and two touchdowns, Johnson with 89 yards rushing and a touchdown, but New England managed three sacks and had the game in control for most of the night. Big plays became an issue, but frankly, against these Cardinals, so close to the Super Bowl one season ago, what were the odds that they wouldn’t?