Jimmy Garoppolo's surprise trade to the 49ers last year sent shockwaves throughout the NFL. Garoppolo's roaring start in San Francisco set up one of the more intriguing meta-match ups in football history: Would the Patriots come to regret shipping off Garoppolo, or would 41-year-old Tom Brady continue to prove that he's the best to ever do it? Each week, we'll break down how the two stack up to each other.
After throwing into a hurricane wind, otherwise known as the Minnesota Vikings defense in Week 1, Jimmy Garoppolo’s value was plummeting. Meanwhile, Tom Brady was back to vaporizing challengers. Fast forward to week 2, the Niners welcomed the Detroit Lions, coached by another Patriots alum, Matt Patricia, and New England entered the Jacksonville Jaguars' den. If there was a coach outside of Bill Belichick who would have the book on Garoppolo, it would be the New England Patriots’ former defensive coordinator, who saw him throw live in practice for nearly four seasons. So this should have been a walk in the park for Detroit, right? Not exactly.
Garoppolo quickly broiled Detroit, completing eight of his first nine passes for 98 yards and a touchdown, and eventually hanging on for a 30-27 victory. It was the complete opposite of Brady’s afternoon, in which it took a whole half for his arm to warm up and reach boiling temperature.
That rate of success, though, was not sustained for the full 60 minutes. While the turnover virus didn’t carry over from Week 1, when Garoppolo puked up three interceptions and was antsy from the pocket, he overcompensated against the Lions and held onto the leather far too long, resulting in six sacks. Mashed Garoppolo sounds like an Olive Garden side dish, but it was an accurate description of his Week 2 performance (unlimited breadsticks not included).
The majority of those sacks were the result of the Lions' coverage, as Niners receivers failed to create separation for a decent part of the afternoon. Detroit’s defensive backs aren’t world beaters, but they were able to erase San Francisco’s underwhelming wideouts.
The talent deficit in San Francisco’s receiving corps was amplified by Garoppolo’s indecision. Only eight passes were completed to receivers, a less than ideal volume. Overall, the 49ers franchise passer completed 18 of his 26 attempts for 206 yards and two touchdowns. The difference in the game proved to be the Niners rushing attack, specifically a heavy dose of emerging RB Matt Breida, which consistently created gaping holes the size of a Ford truck in the Lions defensive front seven.
Most importantly, Garoppolo was able to avoid defensive booby traps that end with him donating interceptions to the Lions' needy defense. Garoppolo’s only misstep occurred with fewer than 2:30 remaining in the fourth when he threw late and watched helplessly as Detroit’s Tracy Walker bolted towards the 49ers' end zone. Garoppolo's interception would have given Detroit possession on the Niners 7-yard-line when they trailed by only a field goal. The play was nullified by a dubious holding call on the other side of the field by Detroit’s Quandre Diggs. Monumentally catastrophic mistake averted.
San Francisco will take the win, but it only masks the stench of ball security questions that have wafted around Garoppolo since the offseason. It’s an issue the Patriots have rarely had to worry about with Brady under center, this week’s proceedings notwithstanding.
For the second week in a row, Brady's throws remained in the shallow end of the defense, rarely threatening to breach the seal on Jacksonville’s airtight secondary. Speedy linebackers Myles Jack, Telvin Smith and safety Tashaun Gipson occupied the middle of the field, diverting Brady’s focus elsewhere. However, the proficiency that was displayed during Week 1, when #12 executed a similar strategy, dissipated against a more formidable defense.
After the Pats defense handed Brady possession deep in Jaguars territory early in the fourth quarter, he was unable to rev up the offense, getting stripped by Dante Fowler, then going three-and-out. Of the 234 yards Brady accumulated, 66 were inconsequential yards tacked on during their final possession when the Patriots trailed 13-30 in the waning minutes. A second touchdown pass pulled them to within 10, but the result was never in doubt.
Despite completing only two fewer passes than he had in their Week 1 win over the Houston Texans, his deep ball was practically non-existent. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Brady’s average pass ranked in the bottom-fifth in downfield air yardage among all quarterbacks in Week 2. Consistent blanket coverage on Rob Gronkowski forced Brady into dump-off passes to James White. Like Garoppolo, Brady fed small servings to his tight ends, scatbacks, and slot receivers.
This hasn’t been a great start to the season for either quarterback, but reinforcements are on the way. Garoppolo’s personnel situation will improve slightly once Marquise Goodwin’s bruised thigh heals enough to allow him back on the field. Brady may also feel a bit more comfortable stretching the field following their acquisition of embattled Cleveland Browns receiver Josh Gordon. Gordon has only played 11 games since his breakout Pro Bowl season in 2013. However, if he can channel that talent, New England may be looking at their best outside receiver since Randy Moss was hauling in Brady’s deep bombs a decade ago.
*Out-of-market games only. Select int'l games excluded.