We already have knowledge of what a Bill Belichick-coached Patriots team looks like without Tom Brady. With No. 12 out with a season-ending injury suffered in Week 1, Matt Cassel guided the Patriots to an 11-5 record in 2008.
In Week 1 of the 2015 season, there will be an entirely different and much more bizarre scene in Foxboro. The Pats will again be relying on a backup quarterback to get the job done. But Jimmy Garoppolo, drafted 62nd overall in the 2014 NFL Draft, is already on a higher pedestal than Cassel. There are reasons to believe that “Jimmy G” could, in fact, be the successor to Brady. Outside of a few yahoos last decade, Cassel was never thought of in that regard.
On top of the odd scene that will be a man not named Brady taking snaps for the Patriots, there is the increasing likelihood that the team will protest Brady’s suspension in one form or another. There are 121 days to go until the Patriots take the field on National TV against the Pittsburgh Steelers. There are likely to be judges and courts and more bombastic quotes from the NFLPA, the NFL, the Patriots and Brady’s agent Don Yee in between now and then. Brady may even get his suspension knocked down from four games to two or even just one. But when Robert Kraft backtracked Monday night and said that his organization would not accept the discipline given out by the league due to its excessiveness, he basically said, “It’s on!” with the NFL.
"Despite our conviction that there was no tampering with footballs, it was our intention to accept any discipline levied by the league,” the statement from Kraft read. “Today’s punishment, however, far exceeded any reasonable expectation. It was based completely on circumstantial rather than hard or conclusive evidence.
"We are humbled by the support the New England Patriots have received from our fans throughout the world. We recognize our fans’ concerns regarding the NFL’s penalties and share in their disappointment in how this one-sided investigation was handled, as well as the dismissal of the scientific evidence supported by the Ideal Gas Law in the final report.
"Tom Brady has our unconditional support. Our belief in him has not wavered."
Nothing can be ruled out now when it comes to what the Patriots will do in Week 1 to irk the NFL. On 98.5 The Sports Hub Tuesday, it was joked that the Patriots should wear a No. 12 patch on their jerseys in honor of Brady. Maybe the team will spray-paint a giant “12” at midfield instead of the Patriots logo. Maybe audio of Brady’s voice will introduce the team over the loudspeakers.
Already in motion on social media is a campaign called, “No Brady, No Banner.” Traditionally on opening night of the NFL season, the defending Super Bowl winning team has a banner raising ceremony broadcast as part of the NFL’s kickoff celebration. Because of Brady’s importance to the Pats winning this past season’s Super Bowl, there are rumblings that the team will treat the league’s Week 1 celebration as just another game, with zero pomp and circumstance.
On the field of play, it’s obviously unknown as to what Garoppolo is as an NFL player. He was sharp last pre-season, leading to the trade of previous backup Ryan Mallett, as he completed 46-of-79 passes for 618 yards, five touchdowns and one interception.
The Patriots have the luxury of a whole summer to get Garoppolo ready for Pittsburgh and the few games that follow while Cassel was thrown into the fire with Brady’s Week 1 injury. Though Cassel performed well in his first game out of the chute (a 116.0 passer rating vs. Kansas City), it took him a while to find his groove as he didn’t play consistently until late in the year.
The NFL made it certain this week that its first game of the 2015 season will not feature one of its marquee faces in Brady. Instead, the nation will see Garoppolo, and it just may see one of the largest, live protests in the history of sport.