Shorthanded Patriots earn impressive win with Jimmy Garoppolo: 9 takeaways

Jimmy Garoppolo is 1-0 as an NFL starter. There are so many impossibilities that go along with that statement, including that the third-year Patriots quarterback accomplished the feat in Arizona, against many people's (us included) favorite to represent the NFC in the Super Bowl. He also did it without the league's best tight end, Rob Gronkowski, or the team's two starting tackles, all-purpose back Dion Lewis or, obviously, Tom Brady.

None of that mattered, of course, because the one constant remained: Bill Belichick. That's how the legend goes, anyway. Either way, here's what's not up for dispute (and what we figured all along): The Pats will be fine without Brady for the first month of the season, partly because of Belichick's ability to prepare his players for every eventuality and situation, no matter how unlikely. But mostly because all Garoppolo had to do was play up to the level of the last guy to replace Brady for any length of time: Matt Cassel.

In 2008, Cassel started 15 games after Brady went down with a knee injury in Week 1. Cassel, a former seventh-round pick, hadn't started a game since high school, and was just as raw and inexperienced as you would expect. But Belichick and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels constantly put him in positions to succeed. By the end of the season, he had helped the team to an 11-5 record.

Also not hurting Garoppolo's chances: The Pats play in the laugh-out-loud funny AFC East which, as of late Sunday evening, has exactly one team sitting at 1-0. We've said for weeks that New England can start 1-3 and Brady will still lead them to a division title and the playoffs. Nothing has changed. In fact, with the Dolphins, Texans and Bills next on the schedule, it seems perfectly reasonable that Garoppolo could give way to Brady on Oct. 9 and the Pats could be 3-1, or worst case, 2-2.

If nothing else, this victory -- on the road against a very good team -- highlights the differences between Belichick and Rex Ryan, Todd Bowles and Adam Gase -- the three other AFC East coaches who all had chances to win Sunday.

Here are nine takeaways from the Patriots' win Sunday night.

1. Bench Brady for Garoppolo!

We're guessing somebody brings this up on Boston radio, probably by Monday morning. If nothing else, it gives us a reason to link to this:

And while we look forward to someone asking Belichick about Brady's status on the depth chart, the more likely scenario is that the Patriots will showcase Garoppolo over the next three games, have him return to backup duties once Brady is reinstated, and then flip him for a first- or second-round pick this offseason.

For now, the Pats have to be pleased with how well Garoppolo played; the big concern this preseason was that he held onto the ball too long, and while he took a few hits as the game progressed, that makeshift offensive line, like Garoppolo, outperformed expectations. When it was over, Garopppolo was 24 of 33 for 264 yards and a touchdown. By comparison, counterpart Carson Palmer finished 24 of 37 for 271 yards and two touchdowns.

Unlike Palmer, who got off to a glacial start, Garoppolo's opening drive was nine plays, 74 yards and ended with Chris Hogan sashaying into the end zone:

2. Cardinals have big issues at (one) cornerback

It's not Brandon Williams' fault. The rookie was toasted above by Hogan, and again later in the game by Malcolm Mitchell to set up another Patriots touchdown, but the Cardinals' gaping need at cornerback forced him into the lineup (Justin Bethel is injured and Marcus Cooper is still learning the defense). It's a lot to ask of any rookie, but Williams was a running back his first three years at Texas A&M and only converted to cornerback as a senior. It showed Sunday night.

The good news is that the Cardinals' defense is still really good, and the secondary includes Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu. And Williams, who had a forgettable night, can only improve.

3. David Johnson is legit

Not many people knew about David Johnson last season, probably because he was a third-round pick out of Northern Iowa and, well, there aren't much in the way of rookie expectations for third-round picks out of Northern Iowa.

But a late-season surge put him on the map for Fantasy football nerds, and now, after his performance on Sunday night, we're all acquainted with his game-changing versatility. He had 16 carries for 89 yards and a score, and added another 43 receiving yards.

He also spent the evening juking would-be Pats tacklers out of their shorts. Behold:

4. Please don't ever retire, Larry Fitzgerald

The 13-year vet and future Hall of Famer deserved better. He put the Cardinals on his back in the fourth quarter, marching the offense down the field to set up the go-ahead touchdown, and later, what should have been the winning field goal.

That touchdown reception, by the way, was the 100th of his career, and was one of the best grabs of the weekend:

It's hard to believe Fitzgerald is just 33 -- it seems like he has been in the league for two decades -- but he remains the Cardinals' most reliable weapon.

5. About that missed field goal ...

Chandler Catanzaro said before the game that he felt comfortable on any kick inside 60 yards. So the 47-yarder he lined up for with 41 seconds on the clock and the Cardinals trailing 23-21 shouldn't have been a problem.

And it probably wouldn't have been had the snap not been low:

Except ...

Yes, timing is an important facet of kicking field goals, but when the ball is sitting up like that, it's hard to blame a low snap (not that Catanzaro did, but for those pointing fingers at the long snapper).

6. There was a penalty for choreographed celebration

Following a Garoppolo second-quarter fumble recovered by Arizona, three Cardinals defenders were flagged for ... choreography!

It's somehow more ludicrous than it sounds. So ludicrous, in fact, that Twitter was the voice of reason:

7. Tom Brady's whereabouts, in case you're curious

Continuing with the ludicrousness, here are all the things Brady can't do while he's suspended:

But don't worry, Roger Goodell is "100 percent" certain that he got Deflategate right.

8. Because potato guns would leave a mark ...

Fans really love free t-shirts. And to meet that demand, it only makes sense that somebody would develop a Gatling gun to dispense them 10 times faster:

9. Next up

Next Sunday, the Patriots (1-0) host the Dolphins (0-1) at 1 p.m. ET while the Cardinals (0-1) host the Buccaneers (1-0) at 4:05 p.m. ET. If the Cards fall to 0-2, the complexion of the NFC suddenly changes.

CBS Sports Writer

Ryan Wilson has been an NFL writer for CBS Sports since June 2011, and he's covered five Super Bowls in that time. Ryan previously worked at AOL's FanHouse from start to finish, and Football Outsiders... Full Bio

Our Latest Stories