Cardinals kickoff 2016 with Brady-less Patriots
GLENDALE — The New England Patriots and Arizona Cardinals came within one win of the Super Bowl last season.
New England lost at Denver in the Patriots’ sixth straight AFC championship game, Arizona was blown out at Carolina in the Cardinals’ second appearance ever in the NFC title contest.
The Patriots and Cardinals, a combined 25-7 in the 2015 regular season, meet Sunday night, an intriguing matchup of New England coach Bill Belichick and Arizona’s Bruce Arians.
Except the Patriots won’t have their best player. Tom Brady must sit out the first four games as punishment for the “Deflategate,” episode.
In his place. Jimmy Garoppolo will make his first career start on national television in the noisy atmosphere of University of Phoenix Stadium.31
Garoppolo has thrown 31 passes in his two-year career, completing 20, in his two seasons as Brady’s backup. In 2015, Garoppolo was 1 for 2 for 6 yards.
Garoppolo called it “a great opportunity.”
He won’t have Rob Gronkowski to throw to, with the star tight end ruled out of the game because of a hamstring injury. The team confirmed Friday night that Gronkowski had been downgraded from questionable to out for the game. Also missing the game will be offensive linemen Jonathan Cooper and Nate Solder.
The Cardinals had prepared for a healthy Gronkowski. Arizona defensive coordinator James Boettcher called him “the best in the game right now at tight end.’”
There wasn’t a whole lot of video on Garoppolo for the Cardinals to study but that didn’t stop Arians from heaping on the praise. Arians said Garoppolo reminds him of a young Tony Romo.
“Very athletic, very accurate,” Arians said. “Not a real powerful, deep throwing arm, but very accurate. He gets it out of his hand fast. Tony was the same way coming out and had a lot of success early.”
The Cardinals should know not to take a backup quarterback lightly. Pittsburgh third-stringer Landry Jones rallied the Steelers to a victory over Arizona last year.
Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer barely played in the preseason and shrugs off the two interceptions he had returned for touchdowns.
Here are some things to consider when the Patriots meet the Cardinals:
The game features two of the three oldest coaches in the NFL: Belichick is 64, Arians 63. They also are two of the top three coaches in wins the last 60 games.
“I think Bruce has done a great job,” Belichick said. “... They’ve put together a good football team with good talent. They have a good system. They are hard to prepare for.”
Arians said the same of Belichick’s Patriots.
“Expect the unexpected,” Arians said. The players will get psyched for this game, but not the coaches, Arians added.
“We don’t get to play,” he said.
The Patriots certainly will recognize one of the players they face. Chandler Jones, acquired in a trade with New England in the offseason, will line up at outside linebacker. He had 12 1/2 sacks as a defensive end for New England last season.
“I had this one circled with a red marker,” Jones said.
Bolstering the pass rush was Arizona general manager Steve Keim’s No. 1 objective. Arizona traded Cooper and a second-round draft pick for Jones.
Did Jones offer some insight into the Patriots?
“He talked to the guys, but there’s really not much more than ‘He (Garoppolo) is really accurate,’ and ‘He’s very athletic,’” Arians said.
The Cardinals are expecting big things from second-year running back David Johnson, based on his play last season. Johnson was the fourth player in NFL history to top 500 yards rushing, 400 yards receiving, 500 yards in kickoff returns and 13 touchdowns.
The others are Tim Brown, Gale Sayers and Maurice Jones-Drew.
The Cardinals are starting rookie Brandon Williams at cornerback opposite All-Pro Patrick Peterson. Williams, who played the position only one season at Texas A&M, struggled in one-on-one coverage in the preseason. Is he ready for the role?
“He’s the best we’ve got,” Arians said. “He better be.”
Expect the Cardinals to mix up the coverage schemes and give Williams some help.
Patriots wide receiver Danny Amendola didn’t see any preseason action, and was limited during training camp as he recovered from knee and ankle issues. He returned to full practice participation once camp ended, and is expected to start alongside Julian Edelman.