FOXBOROUGH — Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels had some simple advice for Jimmy Garoppolo on Sunday.
"Jimmy has got to be himself," McDaniels said. "We certainly don't need our guys to be thinking about trying to do anything that's really not something they're comfortable doing."
Good luck, kid.
It certainly won't be easy with a 65-foot Tom Brady literally looking over his shoulder.
Sunday marked the first full day of Brady's four-game suspension for his role in Deflategate. And greeting visitors to Gillette Stadium was a tribute to the Patriots' four-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback — giant banners, featuring a fired-up Brady, covering about half of the 130-foot lighthouse behind the north end zone. Affixed to the top of the lighthouse is a giant "12" on each side.
One of the banners faces out into the plaza in front of the Patriots Hall of Fame. The other banner hovers directly over the football field at Gillette, where Garoppolo will start three of his four games.
"No, I haven't seen it," coach Bill Belichick deadpanned on Sunday morning.
Brady's teammates certainly seemed to like the gesture.
"It's pretty cool that we have that banner," receiver Julian Edelman said. "We love [Brady] to death. On the field, off the field, he's been a great help in my life. But we've got to deal with the situation, and right now the situation is thinking about the Arizona Cardinals and who's going to be out there to go out and play against these guys."
Sunday was the start of a strange, Brady-less month in Foxborough. Next week's game will mark the first time that Brady hasn't started a Patriots opener since the 2001 season.
Brady's presence is still apparent in Foxborough, with the giant banner lording over the field and his locker remaining intact in the locker room. But he's now barred from the building that has become his second home over the last 16 seasons.
Brady said one last goodbye to his teammates on Saturday at a team party at team owner Robert Kraft's house on the Cape. Now they won't be able to talk football with him until Oct. 3.
"Not going to lie, it's like one of your buddies going to jail," Edelman said. "The whole situation is unfortunate, but it's happened, and we've got to move on."
Perhaps not the best euphemism to use, given that one of Edelman's recent ex-teammates really is sentenced to jail for the rest of his life. Still, it was a strange day on Sunday when the Patriots took the practice field and old No. 12 was nowhere to be found.
But with the disappointment of Brady's suspension also comes the hope of a new era for the Patriots. Garoppolo will finally get his chance to play after spending two years on the bench. And while he will give Brady the job back as soon as the calendar flips to Week 5, Garoppolo gets a legitimate opportunity to showcase his talents and show the world what he can do as a quarterback.
It's a chance that only one other Patriots backup has gotten before him — Matt Cassel, who went 11-5 in 2008 and parlayed that into a huge contract and a starting job with the Chiefs the next year.
"I'm excited for him," receiver Chris Hogan said of Garoppolo. "This is a huge opportunity for him, his career. This whole week we're going to do a great job of preparing for these guys, and just communication with Jimmy, and we're going to go in there ready to go."
Garoppolo's preseason performance didn't produce the sizzle that fans had hoped for, but he certainly played well enough at times to show that he belongs in the NFL. Now will Garoppolo rise to the occasion in the regular season, or wilt under the pressure? No one really knows.
"There's really nothing that can give you the experience of playing in a regular-season game other than playing in them," McDaniels said. "Jimmy has done a great job of working hard for the 2½ years that he's been there and studying and improving every year in our system and with what he can do in it. He's going to prepare hard this week and be ready to go in the game."
Hogan, now in his fifth NFL season, has been Garoppolo's locker neighbor since arriving as a free agent in March, and has been impressed with the way the youngster has prepared for his challenge.
"His preparation, that's kind of a thing I see a lot of. He takes a lot of pride in that," Hogan said. "His studying and his ability to transfer that onto the field has been really great to see."
These next four weeks could also be a great opportunity for rookie Jacoby Brissett, who has played well enough in the preseason that the Patriots haven't been compelled to sign a veteran quarterback.
As a symbol of Brissett's importance to the team, his locker was moved over the weekend from the rookie corner to the First Class section of the locker room. His locker is now sandwiched between Brady and running LeGarrette Blount, and in the same bank of lockers with tight end Rob Gronkowski, receiver Danny Amendola, Garoppolo, and Hogan.
"Jacoby has earned the opportunity and he understands the responsibility that comes with," McDaniels said. "He'll work hard this week to be ready to go, and if he needs to play, he'll know what his job is. We have confidence in him that he'll be able to go in there and execute his job well."
The Patriots' message to both of their young quarterbacks is to not worry about trying to be like Brady.
"We have a lot of different personalities, a lot of different guys on our football team and in our offense," McDaniels said. "Each guy is different in the leadership, emotion, and poise that they show and that they can help the team with, so I would ask that all of them do that — just be themselves."
And just don't mind the 65-foot banner of Brady looking over their shoulder.