by Zack Downing, Staff Writer
The New England Patriots came into the 2016 season in an unfamiliar way: as underdogs.
Without Tom Brady at the helm for the first quarter of the season, most people assumed they would lose 2 or 3 of their first four games, and struggle to recover for the rest of the season. Jimmy Garoppolo is an okay backup quarterback, but he’s no Tom Brady.
It’s debatable whether he’s even as good as Matt Cassel, Brady’s 2009 replacement, who took the Pats to an 11-5 record. With a tough first several games, and Gronkowski out for at least the first one, it didn’t look like the Patriots would debut their season with their usual undefeated start.
That’s why millions were surprised when the Patriots won their first game in the stadium of the Cardinals, one of last year’s best NFC teams. Garoppolo handled it very well for a quarterback who hadn’t ever played a complete game.
It wasn’t a strong victory, since the only thing separating the scores was a missed field goal, but it proved the Patriots could still win. They came out in Foxborough on Sunday against the Miami Dolphins with momentum and confidence in Garoppolo.
For the first half of the game that confidence was strengthened. Garoppolo and the Patriots blasted out of the gate with a 21-0 lead in the game’s first 20 minutes, all 3 touchdowns thrown by Garoppolo.
Danny Amendola caught two of those three scores, and former Bears veteran Martellus Bennett showed what he was capable of with a touchdown and a few long runs.
For that first half Garoppolo was actually looking comparable to Brady. He reached 200 passing yards very quickly, and was looking to have a 5 TD and 350+ yard game, impressive for any quarterback. It began to feel like the 2001 season again, when backup Tom Brady carried the team in place of the sidelined quarterback.
That all changed when he was tackled on his right shoulder late in the second half, suffering what looks to be a somewhat serious injury. Thus, the momentum of the game shifted, and the Patriots moved from their second string to third string quarterback, Jacoby Brissett.
New England began the second half well, intercepting the ball to interrupt the Dolphin’s leading drive. The score became 31-3 following a Blount rushing touchdown, and the game looked wrapped up before the 4th quarter even began.
However, the Dolphins didn’t give up, and had a surge of momentum as the match was in its last act. Ryan Tannehill is a solid quarterback, and he led a few drives and threw two touchdowns to bring the game to 31-24 with 4 minutes left.
In contrast, the New England QB Jacoby Brissett struggled through his half. He threw for less than 100 yards and no TDs, and the Patriots couldn’t control the ball as well as they did with Garoppolo.
The game ended 31-24, after the Dolphins threw an interception during their final drive to try to tie the game. Ultimately, even in a high scoring game, the Pats defense won them the match with 4 turnovers, including the last pick.
The Patriots are coming into Thursday’s home game against the Texans with a 2-0 record, but after two nailbiters and a 3rd string quarterback, the confidence isn’t the same as it was before.
New England has the potential to be this year’s dominant AFC team. Their defense has played well, and their running game is reliable with Blount as the tough man and James White as the quick toss receiver. The Broncos have lost Manning, and Cincinnati is missing some key players.
With Tom Brady and Rob Gronkowski back in week 5, the Patriots could trounce most of their opponents for the rest of the season. But with a shaky quarterback and a receiving corps that isn’t 100%, New England’s short-term future looks uneasy.
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