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After fast start and injury that 'hurt like hell', Jimmy Garoppolo reflects

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Much has changed for the New England Patriots now that quarterback Tom Brady has returned from a four-game NFL suspension, and arguably no player has been affected more than Jimmy Garoppolo.

What a whirlwind it's been for the third-year quarterback who was thrust into the No. 1 role and performed admirably, only to have it come to a painful, abrupt end.

Garoppolo was supposed to start the first four games. Instead, he was limited to just shy of six quarters, the result of Miami Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso driving him into the ground and spraining the AC joint in his right throwing shoulder.

Now Brady's back, with Garoppolo setting back into the No. 2 role, and with that has come a chance to reflect and assess what he learned from the experience.

"The biggest things are the things you think you know being the backup but you don't find out until you’re thrown into the fire and dealing with them week after week, and day after day," Garoppolo told ESPN.com on Wednesday.

"The preparation was a huge part of it, just the way you prepare, it shows up on Sunday. You think you prepared well as a backup and everything like that, but once you're thrown in there and get to see the results on Sunday, then you see what's working and what isn’t working."

Garoppolo's results were impressive, as he was 42-of-60 for 496 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. That has boosted his confidence as he approaches his 25th birthday on Nov. 2, knowing there is plenty of time left in his career.

"It definitely helps. I think it helps with teammates too, just going out there and proving that you can do it," he said. "In the back of your head, you always have that feeling that you can do it, but actually going out there and proving it is a very comforting feeling."

Among the things Garoppolo proved was that the NFL stage wasn't too big for a small-school signal-caller from Eastern Illinois, as he was poised and in command in a season-opening, prime-time 23-21 road victory at the Arizona Cardinals. That was the definition of stepping into a pressure-cooker situation.

Then, seven days later, he was lighting up the Dolphins defense when the Alonso hit late in the second quarter changed everything for him.

"We had a good thing going there for a while ... The first two games went really well, we were rolling," he said. "But I always tell myself 'everything happens for a reason.' There was a reason that happened, and hopefully good things will come from it."

Whether that's with the Patriots, or someone else, will be sorted out in the future. Garoppolo is signed through the 2017 season and his six-quarter surge already has NFL executives assessing his value, which is reflective of a potential franchise quarterback.

But for now, Garoppolo is transitioning into the background with the Patriots, which is an adjustment in and of itself.

"It's different, but it is what it is. When the opportunity comes up, you're going to get an opportunity at some point, you have to take advantage of it. That's what I tried to do," he said. "Whatever happens from here, we'll see. We have a long way to go with the rest of the season and everything, so you have to be ready, bottom line."

That’s also been the message stressed by offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, who believes Garoppolo's early-season experience is of great benefit to him.

"When you have an opportunity to know that you're going to play in a regular-season game, prepare that way, and then learn from it and do it again the next week, I think that's extremely important," McDaniels said. "Because now hopefully you understand what it takes, how much work it requires to be totally prepared to see anything that you could see on a Sunday, and then you stick with that preparation. You don't change your routine."

Garoppolo has no plans to change now -- whether it's his approach or his style of play. While some have said that he would have been wiser to throw the ball away on the third-and-9 play in which Alonso drove him hard to the ground and injured his shoulder, Garoppolo has thought about the play (a 15-yard completion to Malcolm Mitchell) and has few regrets.

"Am I upset about it? I can't say I am. That's how I play; looking to make a play. We got the first down. It's a tough line; you have to be smart, though," he said.

As for the injury itself, Garoppolo said "it hurt like hell" and it devastated him not to be able to play Sept. 22 against the Houston Texans or Oct. 2 against the Buffalo Bills.

While some in the New England media have questioned if Garoppolo could have played against the Bills, Garoppolo said he hasn't sensed any of that from his teammates, which comes back to "having a good locker room, we can all trust one another, and everyone knows you're doing everything you can to be out there."

"It's a violent game, things are going to happen, but it sucks when you're not out there," he added. "It was an uncomfortable feeling, especially when it's your throwing arm. It's tough to get back as fast as you want to. You think you can do things -- throws here, throws there -- but you can't do them because of the injury."

Things have since improved and Garoppolo was healthy enough to suit up and replace Brady with 6:02 remaining in Sunday's 33-13 win over the Cleveland Browns. He said the injury has "come a long way and is definitely going in the right direction."

The same could be said for his career, which received a boost with his early-season performance, even with it being cut short.

"It was a good experience, no doubt," he said.