With the Patriots clinching the No. 1 seed going into Sunday’s game, Jimmy Garoppolo likely will see some playing time Sunday vs. Bills. (Jeff Zelevansky/Getty Images)
FOXBORO — Although rookie backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo has only thrown 10 passes, appearing in mop-up duty in five games, coach Bill Belichick has noticed a steady improvement throughout the course of the season, now heading into Week 17 and the final week of the regular-season.
With the Patriots already clinching the AFC’s No. 1 seed for the playoffs and home field advantage, Sunday’s game against the Bills is essentially meaningless when it comes to the standings. As for how Belichick might manage his players, particularly his quarterbacks, 2010 is the best season to look back to, as like this year, the team clinched the No. 1 seed in Week 16.
Tom Brady started Week 17, but then left the game briefly in the second quarter for Brian Hoyer, like Belichick typically does in the preseason to simulate the quarterback potentially getting hurt in the middle of a game. Brady then went back in and played until there was 10:15 left in the third quarter and the Patriots leading the Bills 31-0.
With what has taken place in past history, it’s likely Garoppolo will at least see some time on the field Sunday at Gillette Stadium.
“I think Jimmy’s worked hard,” Belichick said Friday. “I’d say similar to [Bryan] Stork. He’s been consistent, he’s improved every week. Running different offenses for the scout team and having to keep up what we’re doing and our installation and our game plans on a weekly basis, but he’s been durable, healthy, out there everyday. He keeps getting better. He’s worked on a lot of things that we’ve identified for him to do. He’s gotten better and certainly has a much better understanding of the league.”
In the five games Garoppolo has seen the field, he’s actually performed at a pretty high level, throwing passes in two of the five games — the Chiefs blowout loss and the Bears’ blowout win. He’s a combined 9-for-10 with 92 yards, a touchdowns and not throwing an interception.
With facing AFC East teams for a second time each of the past three weeks (Dolphins, Jets and Bills), Belichick has especially noticed the progression of Garoppolo and the other rookies from the first time they played the teams.
“These last three weeks have been good for [Garoppolo] and probably a lot of the other rookies too, just in terms of the second time around [in the AFC East],” said Belichick. “So kind of where we were the first time we played Buffalo to where we are now in terms of a better familiarity not only with the league, but this team in particular since we’ve already been through it once. As a coach you can start to see there is a growth of understanding and the ability to process a lot of information. The same thing with the Jets last week and Miami the week before we got them the second time around. It’s not that same unfamiliarity it was the first time. It’s been good.”
As for just how much Garoppolo might play Sunday with giving the team’s starters some rest before the postseason, Belichick wouldn’t get deep into that discussion when asked earlier in the week, sticking to the standard “we’ll do what we feel is best for our football team.”
‘We’ll do the same thing we always do so it won’t be any different this week than it’s been any other week,” Belichick said on Tuesday. “It won’t be any different this year than it’s been any other year. We’ll do what we feel is best for our football team, period. Whatever is best for our team then that’s what we’ll try to do.’