FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- With home-field advantage in the AFC already wrapped up, it was only a matter of time until New England Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo would spell Tom Brady Sunday against the Buffalo Bills for some valuable, on-the-job learning experience.
Unfortunately for Garoppolo, that learning came via the school of hard knockdowns.
Playing every offensive snap from the start of the second half onward, Garoppolo was tackled a total of seven times -- three times on sacks -- in the Patriots’ 16-9 loss to the Bills. The rookie quarterback finished with 90 passing yards, successfully completing 10 of his 17 attempted passes, while rushing for 16 yards on four carries.
“It was a good experience getting out there in an actual game, not a preseason game,” Garoppolo said. “Getting some live reps will only help going forward.”
As one can expect playing behind Brady, Garoppolo’s playing time has been limited this season. Sunday marked the sixth game in which he’s appeared, with by far more playing time than any of the others. As a result, the 23-year-old got a good dose of what the quarterback position requires, including the less-than-glamorous parts that playing under pressure brings.
“I don’t get hit in practice, so that was a little different,” Garoppolo said. “It’s good and bad. It’s been a while. It’s always nice to get that first hit out of the way. But the less the better.”
Likely the result of using an injury-depleted offensive line, the Patriots could do little to contain the Bills’ strong defensive front. In several cases -- notably twice on his fourth drive -- Garoppolo was forced to scramble out of the way of the pass rush in order to avoid being sacked.
“If I have to do it, [I] have to do it,” Garoppolo said of his rush attempts. “It’s one of those things, you never know on a play if you’re going to have to or not, so you just have to be ready for either one.”
A critical example came on fourth down during his second drive. Needing a yard to keep the drive alive in Buffalo’s red zone, Garoppolo faced some quick pressure from the Bills. Instead of taking the time to read the defense, Garoppolo sprinted to his left, looking to convert on the run, only to be brought down for a 1-yard loss.
“I saw a good opening and thought I could get it,” he said. “Came up a little short. You learn from that stuff.”
Of course there’s great value in Garoppolo being able to endure such an experience. In addition to the playing time adding to his learning curve, it also gave the Patriots a chance to see the player many believe to be the eventual successor to Brady in action.
“I thought he did a great job,” offensive lineman Ryan Wendell said. “In the huddle I thought his demeanor was excellent. I thought he had command of the huddle. I thought he had command of the plays.”
“I thought Jimmy competed well,” coach Bill Belichick said. “He was under some pressure. Some things were good; other things could have been better. But I thought he competed well. Some of the opportunities where he had to make plays, he made them. There are definitely some positive things there. There are also things to learn from and build on.”
Garoppolo concurred. Although he didn’t lead the team to a late comeback, he held his own under tough circumstances and learned more about being a quarterback than any practice could teach him. The Patriots are sure to be happier to have that than a virtually meaningless win.
“There’s plenty of room for improvement,” Garoppolo said. “There was some good things, bad things, things I learned from. It will only help me going forward.”