Wednesday, September 07, 2016

The Worst Temp Job in Sports

I felt sorry for Jimmy Garoppolo since the day he was drafted. At this point, I want to Instagram him pictures of cute puppies and kittens captioned with inspirational messages.

The closer the Patriots come to Garoppolo's one-month stint as the team's starting quarterback, the wackier thoughts on the poor guy become among many media members and fans -- a group that is setting a trend in neurosis by being both manic and depressed at the same time.

Consider. Before training camp started, there was a train of, well, let's call it thought to be nice, that Garoppolo would perform well enough, perhaps brilliantly enough to enable the Pats to sweep four games and set up a huge quarterback controversy when Tom Brady returned from his suspension. The airing of this proposition caused Bill Belichick to lose his poker-face in a press conference, reacting with an expletive out of amazement, horror, or both.

Training camp and the exhibition season have come and gone. Now the idle speculation is guessing when Belichick will replace Garoppolo when the latter stinks on ice during his tenure. This startling reversal of popular narrative stems from one fact alone. In his exhibition appearances, Garoppolo was not perfect.

This imperfection led to a secondary idiocy, criticism of Belichick for letting Brady play in preseason games rather than having Garoppolo get all the "work he needs." We can settle that hash with a simple thought experiment. Imagine any football team with the priceless gift of knowing in advance that the starting QB would miss four games but barring injury, play the other 12. Would you, coach, prefer to have the player who'll start 75 percent of the games see more action than the one who'll start 25?

Reading Belichick's mind is not easy up close, let alone at a distance, but in this case, his actions make his thoughts transparent. The coach is convinced Garoppolo will be OK in live action. If he wasn't, the backup would indeed have played more in the preseason. For that matter, if Belichick really doubted Garoppolo, he'd have made it obvious before then. The coach would have brought  some career backup on the Josh McCown/Colt McCoy level into camp, rather than have his September starter's only possible replacement be an actual rookie.

Belichick might be wrong. But his track record should at least cause fans and media to await Garoppolo's debut with a measure of calm rather than silly fretting. The kid's not coming into QB the Browns or Titans. The other 44 guys who'll suit up Sunday in Greater Phoenix are pretty good.

BTW, Pats getting six looks like a good deal to me. In my experience teams with a backup quarterback thrown into the fray tend to reach their highest level in the guy's first game, then gradually revert to their norm as the Horatius-at-the-bridge mindset wears off. And let's face it, you might not get another chance to bet the Pats as six-point underdogs until somebody besides Brady is the permanent starter.

The likeliest forecast for Garoppolo is that like almost all new starting QBs, he will look both great at times and terrible at times. This possibility is both reassuring and depressing. He doesn't have to be consistently great for New England to prosper with him under center, he just has to keep the terrible down to occasional.

That should reassure the fretters, but it won't. Alas, should this forecast come true, we are in for a roller coaster ride at Big Crazy Amusement Park. Garoppolo will be taking Brady's job or getting benched with every twist of his performance, often during the same series. The Patriots have no peer when it comes to blocking out unwanted noise, but this will be one hell of a loud roar to keep from Garoppolo's ears.

If he's as sane on October 7 as he is on September 7, he'll have done fine, whatever the Pats' record might be.


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