By Michael Hurley, CBS Boston
BOSTON (CBS) — Time can change a lot of things. But for football teammates, some impressions are made so deeply that a lasting memory that can never be altered.
For longtime Patriots captain Devin McCourty, that moment with quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo came in Week 1 of the 2016 season. With Tom Brady giving up his legal fight and begrudgingly accepting his four-game suspension (for a fake infraction because the league was feeling moody, OK that’s a story for another day), the young Jimmy G. was tabbed as the Week 1 starter for a team with Super Bowl aspirations.
Even now, four-plus years later, McCourty remembers the way that Garoppolo led the team in the opening game in Arizona.
“I think one of the biggest things I got to see here was just his poise. You can tell — you get a young guy in there and you’ve got to go in and fill in for Tom Brady … he comes in and we’re in Arizona, Week 1, and he doesn’t really blink,” McCourty said Wednesday afternoon. “He’s just out there going, playing. And I think when you watch him, that doesn’t change.”
Garoppolo was 24-for-33 for 264 yards and a touchdown in that game, which the Patriots won 23-21. That included Garoppolo going 5-for-7 for 62 yards on what proved to be the game-winning field goal drive in the fourth quarter. He was electric the following weekend, going 18-for-26 for 232 yards and three touchdowns vs. Miami before suffering an injury that would take that Patriots starting work away from him.
Yet even now, McCourty said he sees the same resilient, unflappable Garoppolo under center for the 49ers. As someone who understands a whole lot about how leadership works in football, McCourty can see the entire 49ers team follow Garoppolo’s lead.
“Even if you watch the Miami game [this year], it wasn’t going exactly how he wanted it. Like, he just doesn’t change his demeanor. He kind of stays the same way, and I think the team kind of resembles that. They’re always ready to go, they’re always locked in, no matter the situation. And I would say Jimmy is really the head of that because he doesn’t really budge.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick, who surprised just about everyone by drafting Garoppolo out of Eastern Illinois with the 62nd overall pick in 2014, remains impressed by the quarterback’s accomplishments.
“I think we all know Jimmy’s a quality player and can do all the things that a good quarterback needs to do,” Belichick said this week. “He led the 49ers to the NFC Championship last year. … I don’t think there’s any question about his skill level and what he’s been able to accomplish and what their team’s been able to accomplish. We’ll be ready for his best. I’m sure we’ll get it. He does a lot of things well.”
McCourty reiterated that Garoppolo’s been one cool customer for quite a long time.
“I wouldn’t say that’s new, because I felt like that when he was a young guy here. I still remember going into the opening weekend and everyone asking us questions like, ‘How nervous are you about that spot?’ And our whole team was saying, like, we weren’t nervous at all because we believed in Jimmy and knew he’d be ready to go,” McCourty said. “And I think he’s kind of shown and executed that same way down there in San Francisco, and that’s why so many guys believe in him. And he started that off when he first got there, the first couple games he played in, was leading them victory, so he’s continuing to do that at a high level.”
Garoppolo has been up and down since returning from an ankle injury, getting benched after throwing two picks vs. Miami in Week 5 before shining on national TV with three touchdowns and no picks in a win over the Rams last week.
No matter how well or poorly Garoppolo might be playing at any given moment, though, it’s clear that his former teammates in New England no better than to ever underestimate what he’ll be able to do on Sunday afternoons.