FOXBOROUGH — On a day in which the Patriots won their home opener, defeated a division opponent, and put up 31 points, the emotions coming from the Patriots’ locker room Sunday were an overwhelming sense of disappointment and heartbreak.
Jimmy Garoppolo waited two long years to finally get an opportunity to play in a real NFL game, and was having the game of his life in the Patriots’ 31-24 win over the Dolphins. Overall, he finished 18 of 27 for 234 yards, three touchdowns, and a sparkling 130.8 passer rating. Garoppolo completed his first eight passes, threw for 177 yards in the first quarter alone, and his three touchdown passes came in the game’s first 17 minutes.
But Garoppolo’s day ended with about 4:45 left in the second quarter with a shoulder injury suffered when taking a hit from Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso. Garoppolo eventually winced off the field into the locker room, and was taken to a hospital to assess the damage. The injury was severe enough that Bill Belichick came over to check on his young quarterback, who is filling in for the suspended Tom Brady.
“It’s terrible, it’s unfortunate,” receiver Julian Edelman said. “Jimmy was playing his tail off and I hope he’s all right. I don’t know what’s going on.”
The extent of Garoppolo’s injury is unclear, as is his timetable to return. According to multiple reports, Garoppolo suffered a sprained AC joint in his right shoulder, which likely will keep him out for the Patriots’ upcoming Thursday night game against the Texans, but shouldn’t be a long-term injury. Garoppolo might be able to return for the Bills game in two weeks.
The Patriots likely will have to sign a quarterback in advance of Thursday’s game.
They worked out Ricky Stanzi and Sean Renfree this offseason, and the list of unsigned veterans includes Tarvaris Jackson, Charlie Whitehurst, T.J. Yates, Josh Johnson, Matt Flynn, and Michael Vick. Matt Hasselbeck, a Norfolk native who retired after the 2015 season, is also available, though he is currently an analyst for ESPN.
The Patriots were leading, 21-0, when Garoppolo left the game, and the injury seemed to suck the energy out of the stadium.
The Dolphins came roaring back with 21 points in the second half, but backup quarterback Jacoby Brissett and running back LeGarrette Blount did just enough to help the Patriots squeak out a victory.
The Patriots outwardly expressed confidence in Brissett, the rookie third-round pick who might have to start against the Texans. But the disappointment of Garoppolo’s injury was palpable.
“Any time you see your quarterback go, your heart kind of drops for a second,” said receiver Chris Hogan, who had four catches for 59 yards. “Obviously I hope that it’s nothing serious and he can make a speedy recovery. And you know, that’s tough, but at the end of the day you have to move on.”
The Patriots’ disappointment was two-fold. For one, Garoppolo might not get to finish the four-game stint he was promised with Brady’s suspension. When Brady returns in Week 5, Garoppolo will again be the Patriots’ backup quarterback, and he might not take another snap this season (or next year, the final year of his contract).
And Garoppolo was having an unbelievable game against the Dolphins. Garoppolo played well in the season-opening win at Arizona last week, but he was playing like a 10-year veteran against Miami.
He stood confidently in the face of a Dolphins blitz, shuffling around the pocket like a boxer in the ring and delivering the football despite taking several big shots.
On his third touchdown pass, Garoppolo didn’t wince when Koa Misi came charging into the backfield unblocked. Garoppolo simply shuffled to his right and calmly found Danny Amendola on a skinny post for a 10-yard touchdown.
On his 20-yard touchdown pass to Martellus Bennett, Garoppolo looked the safety off to the left before coming back right and firing a dart in between two defenders.
Later in the second quarter, Garoppolo screamed “Alert! Alert!” at the line of scrimmage and hit Amendola in stride over the middle. Even on the play in which he suffered the injury, Garoppolo avoided two defenders, kept the play alive and found Mitchell for 15 yards and a first down.
According to Pro Football Focus, Garoppolo was 6 for 10 for 96 yards and a touchdown when he was under pressure. His passer rating against the blitz was a cool 136.7.
“Jimmy’s known for having great poise in there,” left guard Joe Thuney said. “He was relaxed, and I think that helps the whole offense run smoothly.”
There were no training wheels for Garoppolo in this game. Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels looked like he was calling the game for Brady, not a quarterback making just his second career start. Assuming Garoppolo’s shoulder heals normally, the Patriots look like they have their quarterback of the future — or at least have a valuable trading chip that could net them a haul in return.
“The kid was playing lights-out. I think that just really goes to his preparation,” Hogan said. “I didn’t even realize he got hurt. You hate to see that. He has worked so hard for this opportunity. I hope that he’s OK and I hope he can get back. But yeah, your heart definitely goes out to him.”
Brissett played the final 35 minutes and held his own. McDaniels called almost all screens and play-action passes to help buy Brissett some time, and Brissett completed 6 of 9 passes for 92 yards. He authored a touchdown drive early in the third quarter, completing all three passes for 59 yards, then helped chew five crucial minutes off the clock late in the fourth quarter.
“He’s a baby, and it’s just funny to see him in the huddle and stuff,” Edelman said. “I’m proud of him.
“He handled it real well, he made calls, he made the right run checks and all that stuff. I’m sure there’s more we could do better, but he came in and Jacoby handled it like a professional.”
Still, the Patriots couldn’t help but feel for Garoppolo and the opportunity he may have lost due to injury.
“I know Jimmy has worked so hard to get himself ready to go and he’s put himself in a great position to seize his moment, so to speak, and it’s tough to see that, so you really feel for the guy,” team captain Matthew Slater said. “We’re praying for Jimmy, hoping for the best, and he definitely has our support.”