FOXBOROUGH — Jimmy Garoppolo's role in the Patriots' Sept. 10 season opener remains in the hands of a federal judge.
Depending on a decision by US District Judge Richard Berman, Garoppolo could be the starting quarterback against the Steelers. Or he could be holding a clipboard on the sideline.
Either way, Garoppolo's fate, unlike the football he clutches in games and practices, is out of his hands.
"We're going about our business as usual, just getting ready for the next game against the Giants," said the No. 2 quarterback, who may not be the backup upon the Steelers' arrival. "We're taking it day by day and just going about our business."
Tom Brady didn't practice on Monday. He was in New York, attending a brief attempt at a settlement regarding his four-game Deflategate suspension. Meanwhile, Garoppolo was leading the Patriots through a walkthrough in Brady's spot with the No. 1 unit.
"It was good," Garoppolo said of taking the helm. "Whenever you get the chance to get added reps or whatever it may be with the first team, it's always a positive."
There's a chance he could be in the same position next week.
"We'll approach that when it gets here. There's a little ways to go still," Garropolo said. "Next Thursday, we'll figure it out."
The Patriot Way is to prepare for every possible scenario. They are approaching the quarterback situation in the same way.
Brady practiced on Tuesday, presumably in his starting role. If the huddle is Brady's on Sept. 10, the Patriots will have prepared for that scenario, just like they've worked on the possibility that No. 12 will be starting to serve his suspension.
"Right now, we're practicing with all the players that are out there," coach Bill Belichick said. "We have good depth at that position. We have good depth at a lot of positions. Not everybody's out there. Players that aren't out there won't practice."
Garoppolo is coming off a relief performance in last Friday's 17-16 win over the Panthers. He replaced Brady to begin the second half. It did not go well to start.
On Garoppolo's first play, he targeted Jonathan Krause. The pass never reached the target. Instead of settling into the wide receiver's hands, the ball clanged off the mitts of Carolina cornerback Bene Benwikere. Had Benwikere caught the ball, he likely would have returned it for a touchdown.
Three plays later, Garoppolo almost threw the ball away again. He tried to hit Chris Harper. Cornerback Josh Norman should have intercepted the pass, but the ball bounced off his hands.
Garoppolo eventually settled into his game. He completed 12 of his next 14 throws. His totals: 13 of 17 for 126 yards and one touchdown.
"You just have to have mental toughness," Garoppolo said of improving on his early hiccups. "It's never going to be a perfect game. We all want it to be. But that's football for you. As a quarterback, you've got to stay level-headed. You can't get too high, can't get too low. Just go about your business."
Over three exhibition games, Garoppolo is 61 for 80 with 554 yards and two touchdowns and two interceptions. Brady has completed 10 of 22 attempts for 107 yards, one touchdown, and two interceptions.
It's unknown whether Garoppolo will add to those statistics. Whether he plays against the Giants in Thursday's preseason finale at Gillette Stadium remains to be seen. If Brady's suspension is upheld, the Patriots might not want to risk losing Garoppolo to injury on Thursday. In either scenario, No. 3 quarterback Ryan Lindley is likely to see action against the Giants.
"We don't want to overlook the Giants," Garoppolo said. "It's the last preseason game. We still want to go out there, compete to the best of our ability, and have a good game on Thursday."
Nobody knows whether Garoppolo will have to play against the Steelers. He is preparing like he will. But that's no different from any other game.
"Whether I'm the starter, backup, or whatever it may be, I'm preparing like a starter," Garoppolo said. "I've got to be ready for Week 1."