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Sep 7, 2016 7:52 PM

Garoppolo prepares for first NFL start in Patriots-Cardinals opener

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – This Sunday night’s season opener for the New England Patriots will be a strange one without Tom Brady, but players Wednesday said they’re not focusing on the star quarterback’s absence.

Instead, the team has placed its faith in Jimmy Garoppolo, the 24-year-old backup quarterback, who has stepped up this preseason to play as Brady serves his four-game suspension.

“I mean, it’s different without Tom,” Garoppolo said during his first press conference. “There’s no question about it, but it is what it is at this point.”

Sunday night will be Garoppolo’s first regular season start in his three years as an NFL player.

However, Jimmy G did start the first three of four preseason games this year, throwing 554 yards and two touchdown passes. The Patriots won all three of those games.

Garoppolo said the team is hard at work preparing for Arizona’s tough defense and quick offense, led by veteran quarterback Carson Palmer.

“We’ll be ready for them on Sunday and it’s just preparing throughout the whole week,” he said. “We have to have a good week of practice, take care of the little things, the little details, and the rest will take care of itself.”

On Wednesday, the Patriots also announced this year’s four team captains: first-time captains Rob Gronkowski and Dont’a Hightower, alongside Matthew Slater and Devin McCourty.

McCourty said he’s ready to get back on the field.

“When you care enough about it, you want to go out there and play well and win, you’re a little nervous and anxious, but it’s all a part of football,” he said.

When asked about how Garoppolo is doing in practice, McCourty deflected, saying he treats Garoppolo like any other player.

“Jimmy’s a hard-working football player and I fully support him,” McCourty said. “I don’t think talking about Jimmy daily does anything. He’s like everybody else. I mean, you can ask how Malcolm Butler’s doing, Cyrus Jones, I’m going to tell you the same thing. They’re out here working hard, getting ready to go.”

Garoppolo said Brady had the same mentality prior to leaving for his suspension.

“It was just a goodbye and good luck, really,” he said. “He was just wishing me luck for the first four and I think he wished it for the whole team. He’s very supportive of us and we appreciate that.”

Preseason Patriots talk has been focused on the pressure on Garoppolo to perform in Brady’s absence. However, the young quarterback said he hasn’t had time to focus on anything but the team.

“To be honest, I haven’t even had much time to even think about that,” he said. “It’s straight to Arizona right now, so that’s where my head’s at and that’s probably where it’ll stay.”

Garoppolo also added he’ll make the most of his playing time.

“It is a phenomenal opportunity,” he said. “This is why you play the game. You don’t want to be the backup, so the opportunity’s here, just have to go out and take advantage of it.”

The Patriots’ season opener is in Arizona on Sunday night. Kickoff is at 8:30.

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