GLENDALE, Ariz. — It was after the first New England touchdown drive and Jimmy Garoppolo had looked, well, like Tom Brady. Garoppolo walked to the Patriots sideline, snapped an ammonia capsule in half, and inhaled.
The powerful fumes caused his head to shake back and forth. Then he smiled. He was going to enjoy this moment.
No, Garoppolo wasn't perfect Sunday night, and if you want to give credit to a Patriots defense that weathered the GOATish Larry Fitzgerald blitzkrieg, you wouldn't be wrong.
Yet the Patriots' 23-21 victory at University of Phoenix Stadium showed so much about Garoppolo. So much good. The main thing being this: While Brady is tossing footballs in his backyard, eating some good barbecue and watching Star Trek marathons, the Patriots are in good hands. Really good hands.
As old as Carson Palmer looked—statues look at Palmer and think he's too stiff—Garoppolo looked as sprightly. He's faster than you think, stronger than you think, and he ran the offense with smart efficiency.
Think about what Garoppolo did. There was no Rob Gronkowski for the Patriots. No Dion Lewis. Both starting tackles were out of the contest. There was no Rob Ninkovich on defense. And still the Patriots won.
Of all the new starting quarterbacks this week, Garoppolo was the best.
"Guys around me responded well," he told the media. Already, he knows the right things to say. Give credit to others, say as little as possible. It's the Patriots way.
In his first start 15 years ago, Brady went 13-of-23 for 168 yards and no touchdowns. In his first start, Garoppolo was 24-of-33 for 264 yards and one touchdown. His quarterback rating was 106.1.
But let's get back to what this all really means. It means there is an excellent chance that not only will the team go 4-0 while Brady is gone, but it will also now be able to again win the division, and that 4-0 cushion will likely mean the Patriots—again—will be the No. 1 or No. 2 seed in the AFC. Probably a 1 that gets home-field advantage for the AFC playoffs.
If you hate the Patriots, or thought the loss of Brady would slow them down or cause a disruption in the force, you're wrong. Prepare your hate. You'll need it because the Patriots are still going to be great despite the loss of Brady. This game at Arizona proves it.
Am I jumping too far ahead? Basing too much on one game? Maybe. But let me remind you what the Patriots just did. They came into Arizona, a long trip in front of a loud crowd, and beat one of the conference favorites while missing numerous key components of their team.
The AFC East is absolutely putrid. Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor threw for 111 yards and no touchdowns. The Dolphins fought hard in Seattle—a brutal place to play—but don't look like a threat to the Patriots. Neither do the Jets, who lost to the Bengals.
The Patriots also now embark on the Cupcake March of the Sweetened Creampuffs and Fluffy Sugarplums. The next three games are at home against the Dolphins, Texans and Bills. Then they go on the road to play the Browns on Oct. 9. This means they don't play a tough game until the Bengals, back in New England, on Oct. 16.
There is a very good chance New England will be 5-0 by the time it plays Cincinnati. At worst, 4-1. So, yes, this will again be a brutal time for Patriots haters.
The thing you saw with this Patriots win was the preparedness. There was the overall readiness, and the audacity of nope as New England slowed Carson Palmer and this dangerous offense (though Fitzgerald was Fitzgerald).
What was staggering, even for Bill Belichick, the best coach of all time, was just how well he and his team had Garoppolo prepared. Garoppolo, age 24, looked like a 10-year veteran. On a number of different occasions, the Cardinals threw a bevy of complicated coverages at Garoppolo, and he read them (mostly) with great ease. The Patriots jumped to a 10-0 lead mainly because Garoppolo was so calm.
The Patriots used Julian Edelman a bunch early, and that was smart since Edelman is a veteran presence. That presence helped Garoppolo relax, and he settled in quickly despite the Patriots being dramatically undermanned.
"That is all on you guys," Edelman said of the media, when asked about the Patriots being underdogs and concerns over lacking some of their stars. "You are the ones that think we are undermanned and underdogs, but we are just worried about what we can control, and that is going out there, and having a good week of practice, and try to do that in the game."
Don't be fooled by Edelman. He knows this team was undermanned and underdogs. Belichick probably mentioned it several hundred times during the week: How no one thought they'd win this game.
Hate the Patriots. Love them. Whatever it is you feel. But what I saw Sunday night, even if I include all of their Super Bowl moments, was one of the more impressive wins they've ever had. Because you're not supposed to come to the Cardinals' stadium with a backup quarterback and half a team and win.
Garoppolo was not supposed to look that good. He was not supposed to be as calm as Brady in the pocket. But there he was. There he was.
And here the Patriots go again.
Mike Freeman covers the NFL for Bleacher Report.