Brady or Garoppolo for Patriots Exhibition Game vs. Packers?

August 12, 2015 Updated: August 12, 2015

FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—Will the New England Patriots’ preseason opener be a coming-out party for Jimmy Garoppolo or a thumb in the eye to Roger Goodell and the NFL’s Deflategate investigation?

That’s what football fans will see when the Patriots play the Green Bay Packers on Thursday night in their exhibition opener. With a four-game suspension looming over quarterback Tom Brady, coach Bill Belichick will have to decide which is more important: getting his backup prepared for a possible stint as the starter, or showing his support for the suspended Super Bowl MVP.

No surprise: Belichick hasn’t said anything about his plans. So when the teams take the field, the Packers and the rest of the NFL will learn for the first time how the defending champions plan to handle the potential absence of their star. 

“I don’t know who we’re going to see,” Packers linebacker Clay Matthews said. “You prepare as if their best players are going to play whether it’s the preseason or not. … We’ll see what decision they go in with. But we’re preparing for all of their starters and hopefully put in a good showing.”

Brady was suspended for four regular-season games because the NFL said he was “at least generally aware” of a scheme to provide improperly inflated footballs for the AFC championship game against the Indianapolis Colts. He appealed all the way to federal court, and that’s where he was on Wednesday when his teammates were at Gillette Stadium before their final walkthrough. 

Tom Brady #12 of the New England Patriots throws a ball during practice at Gillette Stadium on June 4, 2015 in Foxborough, Massachusetts. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)
Tom Brady of the New England Patriots throws a ball during practice at Gillette Stadium on June 4, 2015, in Foxborough, Mass. (Darren McCollester/Getty Images)

That alone might give Belichick reason to keep Brady out of the game; he’s missed the preseason opener four times since taking over as starter, including last year, and he’s skipped at least one exhibition game in six of the past seven seasons.

The suspension does not affect Brady’s ability to participate in training camp or play in the exhibition games, but resting him would give Belichick a chance to get Garoppolo some snaps with the first team. The second-year second-stringer played in six games as a rookie last season, most of it in garbage time, completing 19 of 27 passes with one touchdown and no interceptions after he was drafted in the second round out of Eastern Illinois.

The Patriots also signed former Arizona Cardinals quarterback Ryan Lindley this week after Matt Flynn couldn’t pass his physical. Lindley, a sixth-round pick from San Diego State, played in nine games over two seasons with the Cardinals, completing 50.8 percent of his passes and throwing two touchdowns and 11 interceptions.

He also started last year’s 27–16 playoff loss to Carolina, completing 16 of 28 passes for 82 yards with one TD and two interceptions.

“It’s another arm,” Belichick said.