Patriots' Garoppolo excited for opportunity vs. Cardinals

BY foxsports • September 7, 2016

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It was two days into the biggest week of his NFL career, and Jimmy Garoppolo was enjoying a rare moment of not being noticed.

In a mostly empty locker room Tuesday, reporters crowded around running back D.J. Foster as he fielded questions about being the latest undrafted rookie to crack the Patriots roster.

The group was so large that it spilled in front of nearby lockers, including Garoppolo's. It provided the perfect cover for the third-year quarterback to slip quietly into his own space.

When a reporter approached and began to ask him a question, Garoppolo listened politely before cutting him short.

"I'm actually talking tomorrow," he said, before grabbing a few items and heading out of a side door about a minute later.

Garoppolo has already answered his share of questions about what it's been like heading into the regular season knowing he would be an NFL starting quarterback for the first time.

Still, as he prepares to step into the shoes of one of the most decorated quarterbacks in NFL history, Garoppolo has managed to fly somewhat under the radar this preseason.

He's been productive on the field and (most importantly) stayed healthy. It's also helped that the guy he's replacing for the first four games was also around the past two months. Tom Brady's presence garnered its own attention, allowing Garoppolo to ease into what will surely be the most-watched temp job in recent memory.

That ends when Garoppolo takes the field Sunday at Arizona to become just the third opening day starter at quarterback that the Patriots have had since 1996. At that moment, his spotlight will brighter than ever.

"It's busy, that's for sure," Garoppolo said of his week. "There's not much time to rest or anything like that. But that's what I expected."

The time crunch has been so demanding that the 24-year-old hasn't even had time to call his parents this week amid his unusual opportunity.

"This is why you play the game. You play to be in the game and play. You don't want to be the backup," Garoppolo said. "The opportunity is here. I've just got to go take advantage of it."

He can expect to be challenged right away.

Garoppolo will face a Cardinals defense that ranked second in the NFL with 33 total takeaways last season. The group, which already includes Pro Bowlers Calais Campbell, Patrick Peterson and Tyrann Mathieu, has been bolstered by the addition of former Patriots defensive end Chandler Jones.

Cardinals coach Bruce Arians expects Garoppolo to be comfortable in an offense that he's had two years to develop in.

Arians said Garoppolo's skills remind him of Cowboys passer Tony Romo.

"I'm sure they'll use Jimmy's athleticism some more than Tom's," Arians said. "But they throw back to Tom on a touchdown and you've got to be ready for everything. It's different, but you've seen those guys play and I don't think they'll do that much differently."

A lot was made this week of the addition of a giant Brady banner to a tower outside the entrance to Gillette Stadium the day after his four-game "Deflategate" suspension began. It was an understandable show of support for the face of the franchise, but also one that could seem counterproductive as the Patriots attempt to rally behind Garoppolo.

Coach Bill Belichick brushed it off as an unrelated move by the team's marketing department.

Inside New England's locker room, there's been nothing but support expressed for Brady's understudy.

One of Garoppolo's favorite targets this preseason, new tight end Martellus Bennett, said it's an afterthought at this point.

"I'm not worried about Jimmy," Bennett said. "He's gonna be fine. Jimmy's gonna do what Jimmy does."