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Jimmy Garoppolo plays his role to perfection

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Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo (10) directed the Patriots to a victory in his first NFL start.Barry Chin

GLENDALE, Ariz. — Jimmy Garoppolo tried to deflect as much of the spotlight as possible.

"It's a team game. Tonight was a clear picture of that," Garoppolo said Sunday night, shortly after the Patriots pulled off a 23-21 season-opening win over the Cardinals. "Having the confidence of the guys around me in the huddle, it just makes my job a whole lot easier."

But Garoppolo was the show on Sunday night, making his first career start in place of the suspended Tom Brady. He wasn't exactly Jimmy Gunslinger, but he was certainly Jimmy Good Enough to get the Patriots off to a 1-0 start, and played the role of Jimmy Game Manager to perfection.


Garoppolo finished a respectable 24-of-33 passing for 264 yards, a touchdown, and a 106.1 passer rating, outdueling Carson Palmer and a Cardinals defense that ranked fifth in the NFL last season.

He also overcame several significant hurdles on Sunday night in securing his first NFL win — a raucous Arizona crowd, two Patriots turnovers (neither of which were Garoppolo's fault), a fourth-quarter deficit, and several negative plays by the Patriots offense.

After the game, Garoppolo earned the attention usually reserved for Brady — the postgame interview with NBC, a news conference in front of a packed room of reporters, and a game ball.

"Aw man, this is awesome," said receiver Chris Hogan, who caught Garoppolo's first touchdown pass of the season, a 37-yard strike. "I don't even have words to express what this means to this whole team and coming out here, playing on the road in a tough environment against a really good team. I was just happy for everyone, and for Jimmy. This was huge."

Garoppolo started hot, throwing for 106 yards in the first quarter, and was huge on third down, where the Patriots were a fantastic 10 of 16.


On the winning drive in the fourth quarter, Garoppolo and the offense overcame four negative plays to push the ball down the field and cash in with a Stephen Gostkowski 32-yard field goal with 3:44 left. The most impressive play was a 32-yard completion to Danny Amendola on third-and-15, a play in which Garoppolo bought time with his feet and found Amendola over the middle.

"The line gave me plenty of time to get my read and everything," Garoppolo said. "Danny found a soft spot and we hit it."

The Cardinals spoke all last week about not letting Garoppolo beat them with his feet, but Garoppolo proved to be slippery Sunday night. While overall he only had 12 yards on four rushes, Garoppolo was able to buy time in the pocket, and had a nice 10-yard scramble on third and 6 in the third quarter.

"We can't go out there and expect them to lay down," said Cardinals safety Tony Jefferson in exasperation. "Garoppolo, like we have said all week, is a good quarterback. He was solid in the pocket, he made the throws that he needed to make."

Garoppolo was certainly correct that Sunday's victory was a total team effort. It started with the coaches, who simplified the game plan for Garoppolo with a steady diet of quick passes, play action, and rollouts.

Garoppolo is not going to sit in the pocket and pick apart a defense. He's also not going to make too many hot reads and audibles at the line of scrimmage. Hogan said his touchdown pass was simply the result of beating his man off the line of scrimmage, not due to any sort of audible.


Garoppolo's job is to call the plays sent in by Josh McDaniels, and Garoppolo did a nice job of moving the chains and picking up third downs. He slowed after the first quarter, throwing for 158 yards over the final 45 minutes, but he had a much better feel for the pass rush than he showed in the preseason, and made plays when it counted.

"He was commanding in the huddle, commanded everyone's attention," Hogan said. "It was loud there, too, so he had to be loud, and I thought he did a really nice job."

McDaniels built a game plan around getting the ball out of Garoppolo's hands, and letting his playmakers get yards after the catch. McDaniels had a good run-pass balance with 27 traditional running plays compared with 36 pass plays. LeGarrette Blount picked up 70 punishing yards on 22 carries and Julian Edelman taking three end-arounds for 16 yards.

And with the Patriots missing several key pieces — Rob Gronkowski and Nate Solder, among others — McDaniels did a good job of using every piece in his toolbox. Matthew Slater was brought in for a handful of plays to block as a wide receiver, and tight end Martellus Bennett was used heavily in pass protection.

The offensive line, playing with two rookie starters and a backup at left tackle, held up its end of the deal. Garoppolo was only sacked twice in 36 dropbacks, although one resulted in a fumble that was recovered by Chandler Jones.


"I was just trying to whoop their ass all day," Bennett said. "I wanted to be the guy where when you see him you're like, 'Damn, here he comes again.' That's what my job was today — pass protect, run block, whatever it is, I'm able to do a lot of different things."

This was not an "Aaron Rodgers in 2008" performance from Garoppolo, when Rodgers replaced Brett Favre and was an instant superstar. He won't be taking Brady's job any time soon. The Patriots didn't put a ton of faith in Garoppolo when they decided to run out the clock at the end of the second quarter, despite being on the 31-yard line with three timeouts and 1:24 left.

But Garoppolo came through in the clutch, with the help from a big support system.

"Statistically, maybe we shouldn't have won that game," Hogan said. "But I think all these guys, we never stopped, we were battling the entire game. You couldn't have scripted that any better."

Watch: Ben Volin, Jim McBride, and Dan Shaughnessy break down the Patriots’ win

Box score: Patriots 23, Cardinals 21

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.