Tomase: We may know answer to Brady vs. Garoppolo by end of September

John Tomase
August 14, 2018 - 12:48 pm
Tom Brady and Jimmy Garoppolo

Chuck Cook/USA Today Sports


Two questions will hang over the Patriots all year:

1. Is this Tom Brady's last season?

2. How's Jimmy Garoppolo doing?

We won't be able to answer the first one for sure until maybe this time next year. But we could have an answer to question No. 2 by the end of September.

Garoppolo's 49ers open the season in what soccer fans might call The Group of Death. San Francisco plays three of its first four games on the road, with two at playoff teams (Vikings, Chiefs) and one visiting a nine-win Chargers squad that missed the playoffs on a tie-breaker. Even the Lions, under new head coach Matt Patricia, won't be a layup at home. They won nine games last year.

Garoppolo, of course, is 7-0 in his career as a starter -- two wins with the Patriots in relief of Tom Brady in 2016, and five in a row to end last season with the Niners, which earned him a $137.5 million contract.

Beating the Bears, Texans, Titans, and resting-all-their-starters Rams -- as Garoppolo did last year -- is one thing. Taking down the 13-win Vikings and their top-ranked defense on the road during the Minnesota debut of quarterback Kirk Cousins in Week 1 will be another entirely.

Things don't get much easier from there. The Lions are coming off back-to-back nine-win campaigns and Matthew Stafford has passed for at least 4,000 yards in seven straight seasons. The Chief represent an unknown, since young quarterback Patrick Mahomes II will be under center, but they've won at least 10 games in four of the last five years under head coach Andy Reid. The 2017 Chargers won nine of 12 after an 0-4 start.

Three of those teams boast experienced Pro Bowl quarterbacks. The fourth is 12-5 in September since 2013.

The Patriots will be challenged, too, however. They open at home with the Texans and quarterback DeShaun Watson, who had New England on the ropes last year before another miracle comeback by Brady. Watson tore his ACL before he could finish what was shaping up to be an historic rookie season -- he threw 16 touchdowns in October, a rookie record -- but he's back and should start Week 1. That's an immediate test, especially without Julian Edelman.

The challenge grows in Week 2 vs. the Jaguars, who still believe they were a blown call away from returning the fumble that would've knocked the Patriots out of last year's AFC title game. Their defense remains ferocious, and Brady will be breaking in a new left tackle after the departure of Nate Solder in free agency. That game is in Jacksonville, and Brady won't be throwing to Danny Amendola, who caught seven passes for 84 yards and two TDs in the AFC championship vs. this same secondary.

The Pats stay on the road to face the Lions, allowing us to juxtapose Brady and Garoppolo vs. Patricia's defense in consecutive weeks.

The Patriots then host the Dolphins in what should be the first of many AFC East layups. By that point, Edelman will be preparing to return, and we'll have a much better idea if Brady's altered offseason impacted his performance.

Meanwhile, if Garoppolo remains undefeated after running the September gauntlet, the Patriots should feel even more conflicted about the trade that transformed him from Brady's heir apparent into a legitimate Super Bowl rival.