Fill-in starter Jimmy Garoppolo got off to a hot start in his first career home start at Gillette Stadium, leading New England to a 24-0 advantage. Tom Brady's backup was looking anything like a backup, completing his first eight throws of the day on the way to a pair of opening 75-yard drives that ended with touchdown passes of 12 and 20 yards to Danny Amendola and Martellus Bennett, respectively.
But with 4:04 to play in the second quarter, in the midst of another drive, Garoppolo took a hit from Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso that drove his right shoulder into the turf following a 15-yard completion to rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell.
Garoppolo got back to his feet with his right arm hanging at his side. He took a knee before reaching the New England bench, met by the Patriots medical staff. The third-year quarterback was clearly severe pain. He immediately went to the locker room and did not return.
Initial reports indicated that Garoppolo could miss as many six weeks due to the injury, although subsequent reports shortened that, saying the AC sprain might cause him to miss only this Thursday night's battle with the Texans, leaving a Week 4 return against the Buffalo Bills as a possibility.
Rookie third-round backup Jacoby Brissett finished the win over Miami. New England used a more conservative game plan in the second half with a LeGarrette Blount-led running game. Safety Duron Harmon sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone as time expired.
Brissett completed 6 of 9 passes for 92 yards in two-plus quarters of his NFL debut. He is likely to start against Houston on the short week on Thursday night at Gillette Stadium.
"He's been working for this for a long time, all the way back into the spring, all the way through training camp. He's gotten a lot of reps. He did a good job; pressure situation, played two and a half quarters and he did a good job for us," Belichick said after the win.
A day later, after breaking down the film, he was equally upbeat about the young quarterback's performance stepping in for Garoppolo.
"I think he did a lot of good things; not perfect. There are some things we need to work on. That's probably true for everybody that played, though. But I thought he handled himself pretty well. It wasn't an easy situation but he did a good job with it," Belichick said.
Now Brissett will take over the starting job for at least a week. New England will look to continue its winning ways without Brady, and offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels will work to draw up a game plan to succeed.
"We always try to do what's right for the week," McDaniels said as reports indicated the Patriots would not add a quarterback despite the injury to Garoppolo. "You know there are a lot of variables that go into that and certainly we consider all positions, so if we have some situation where we're missing somebody on the offensive line, or receiver position, tight ends, you know, quarterback, running back -- we consider all of those variables as we prepare our plan for the opponent that we're playing and then have to consider the opponent considerably and the problems that they present and try to come up with the right plan for the week. So, our formula won't change. We'll just try to figure out exactly what it is that we feel best about based on the circumstances that we'll have ultimately for the game and then try to go out there and play our best on Thursday night."
Next man up is now next quarterback up in New England. Brissett will be asked to shoulder the load, and Belichick, with his four-plus decades of experience in the NFL to lean on, will try to lead him through it all.
"I've been through quite a bit of quarterback situations," Belichick declared. "But right now I don't think that really matters. We've got a short week before our matchup against Houston, so across the board in all three phases of the game, we've got to do the best job that we can getting ready to go with all of our players, our coaches and our schemes for Thursday night. That's what we're working on."
--LeGarrette Blount tied a career high with 29 rushes against the Dolphins in Sunday's win, churning out 123 yards (4.2 average) with one touchdown. The big back picked up the slack in the second half with QB Jimmy Garoppolo knocked from the game, picking up 92 yards on 15 attempts after halftime with Jacoby Brissett under center protecting what had been a 31-3 lead at the break.
When the day finished, Blount ranked third in the NFL with 193 yards rushing. But Patriots head coach Bill Belichick says the production has been very much a group effort.
"The big thing that's contributed to it is that he has had some space to run," Belichick said. "There were a lot of plays, too many plays last year, where it didn't matter who the back was, we just couldn't get him started, couldn't get him into any kind of space, couldn't let the back build up any kind of momentum. I think all our backs have the ability to make yards. They've all been productive. We've seen it in preseason, we've seen it through the years with some of these guys, depending on which guy you want to talk about, but we had to give him a chance. You've got to give them a chance to have some type of opportunity to operate with some space or momentum, just something. No back can gain yardage when there's just no place to run. I don't care how good the guy is."