Jimmy Garoppolo Answers Call but Injury Creates More Uncertainty for Patriots

Brent Sobleski@@brentsobleskiNFL AnalystSeptember 18, 2016

Sep 18, 2016; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Patriots quarterback Jacoby Brissett (7) throws a pass against Miami Dolphins defensive end Mario Williams (94) in the second half at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Miami Dolphins 31-24.  Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports
David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

Save the New England Patriots, Jacoby Brissett. You're the team's only hope. 

Well, the rookie quarterback is the team's best hope for the next two games until the Jedi Master, Tom Brady, returns from his league-mandated four-game suspension.  

But the Patriots aren't the Rebel Alliance. If anything, they're the NFL's version of the Empire, and Bill Belichick's squad can overcome the loss of the Death Star and rebuild. They'll just have to do so with a Padawan who will make his first start against J.J. Watt on a short week when the Patriots face the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football

Prior to Brissett's unexpected entrance during the Patriots' 31-24 victory over the Miami Dolphins, Jimmy Garoppolo played like a legitimate franchise quarterback. Social media buzzed about the haul New England could eventually get for the second-round pick. After all, this is still Brady's team, and Garoppolo will be a free agent in 17 months. 

His time behind a future Hall of Fame quarterback appeared to pay off for the third-year signal-caller. In his first two starts, Garoppolo completed 70 percent of his passes for 498 yards and four touchdowns. 

Unfortunately, the Eastern Illinois product may never play another snap for the Patriots.

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Such a proclamation may sound extreme, but the quarterback injured his throwing shoulder when he rolled to his right and Kiko Alonso tackled him, courtesy of Fox Sports' Pete Blackburn: 

According to the Boston Herald's Jeff Howe, Garoppolo's injury could take up to six weeks to heal. By the time he's healthy, Brady will already be back in the lineup with a potential offseason trade to a quarterback-starved franchise on the horizon. 

Until then, offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels must prepare Brissett. As well as Garoppolo played in Brady's stead, no one should expect a massive step back with the rookie in the lineup.

What separates New England from the rest of the NFL is the team's depth. The Patriots are playing without Rob Gronkowski, Dion Lewis, Dont'a Hightower and, of course, Brady. During the offseason, they released and traded players who started multiple games. Yet the "Do Your Job" crew continues to win. 

Brissett stepped in for Garoppolo and completed 6-of-9 passes for 92 yards. 

"I don't think the moment was too big for him," special teams standout and team captain Matthew Slater said after the game, per ESPN.com's Mike Reiss

Wide receiver Julian Edelman added, per WEEI 93.7 FM Boston's Ryan Hannable"He's a baby, and it's just funny to see him in the huddle on stuff. I'm proud of him. He handled it real well."

Edelman could laugh about it after the game even though he dropped Brissett's first two career pass attempts. But this year's third-round selection provided a brief glimpse of the Patriots' future. 

Brady will eventually lose to Father Time just like every other athlete in the history of sports, and a possible offseason Garoppolo trade might be far too tempting for Belichick not to entertain. 

This would leave the North Carolina State product as Brady's heir apparent. He's already been anointed by the emperor, Bill Parcells, per ESPN's Ed Werder: 

There are those around the league who preferred Brissett over fellow rookie Dak Prescott, for example. 

"He’s got good enough physical skills and arm," an anonymous scout told USA Today's Tom Pelissero. "He’s mobile, but not like a Dak Prescott. I think he’s a tough kid and he’s a smart kid and he’s a producer." 

And the first-year signal-caller produced during previous opportunities, as NESN.com's Doug Kyed noted: 

The next step will be to prepare Brissett as a starter while shaping the offense around his specific talents. After Brissett was thrust into the lineup, McDaniels made sure to keep the game plan simple and not ask the rookie to make difficult throws. Most of his passes were short or screen attempts. As such, the Patriots offense sputtered, but the rookie will add a few wrinkles to the system. 

Brissett is a completely different quarterback compared to Brady and Garoppolo. The 6'4", 235-pound rookie has a stronger overall arm, and he's a better all-around athlete. These things can be incorporated into the game plan to play to his strengths—whether McDaniels decides to throw vertical more or even install zone reads and run-pass options. 

The key is keeping Brissett upright against Watt and Co. before facing the desperate Buffalo Bills the following week. Even so, the quarterback should have some help as he makes his first NFL start.

Edelman has already caught 14 passes. Danny Amendola scored twice against the Dolphins. Martellus Bennett is more than capable of putting up big numbers when he's targeted. And LeGarrette Blount might be getting long in the tooth, but the 250-pound back just posted a 123-yard performance. Plus, Gronkowski's return still can't be ruled out despite a short week of preparation. 

With the full force of the Patriots machine behind them, Garoppolo followed the path of the dark side and Brissett is capable of doing the same. 

Brent Sobleski covers the NFL for Bleacher Report. Follow him on Twitter @brentsobleski.