The New England Patriots without Tom Brady looked very much like the New England Patriots with him.

Jimmy Garoppolo made his first NFL start in place of Brady, who sat out Game 1 of his four-game Deflategate ban Sunday night — and the third-year QB led the Patriots to a 23-21 victory over the Arizona Cardinals.

The Patriots, also without injured tight end Rob Gronkowski, ran the ball nearly half the time — they threw 65 percent of the time last season — but in many ways, this offense didn’t look much different with Garoppolo at the helm.

His final stats: 24 for 33 for 264 yards and a touchdown (on his first drive) along with 12 yards rushing and — get this — one pass catch. He caught a ball that was deflected back to him by a Cardinals lineman and took it for a three-yard gain. Most telling: On third down, Garoppolo went 8 for 10 for 107 yards and seven first downs.

Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald (two TDs) caught three of his eight passes on the closing drive to help the Cardinals reach field-goal range with 41 seconds left. But a low snap from Kameron Canaday led to a wide-left miss from 47 yards by Chandler Catanzaro.

After a day in which every other team in the AFC East lost, the Patriots headed back home in a familiar spot — first place. They’ll play their next three games, all without Brady, at home.

In case you missed it, here are the other top topics after the NFL season’s opening Sunday:

MAKING A POINT (OR TWO): If the opening Sunday of the NFL season is a day for making statements, then consider the Oakland Raiders and their coach, Jack Del Rio, to have spoken the loudest. When the Raiders got the ball, trailing New Orleans by seven, Del Rio let his team know they’d be going for a win, not a tie and overtime, after they scored a touchdown. After Derek Carr moved Oakland downfield for that touchdown with 47 seconds left, Del Rio stuck to his word — going for 2, even when “the book” says to take the tie. Carr threw to Michael Crabtree, who reached over Ken Crawley and made the grab. Oakland won 35-34. “I didn’t really ask for any feedback there,” Del Rio said of his game-winning decision.

ANTHEMS: The most visible signs of protest during national anthems played across the league on the 15th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks came from Kansas City cornerback Marcus Peters , who raised a black-gloved fist in a gesture reminiscent of what sprinters Tommie Smith and John Carlos did at the Olympics in 1968. Later, four Miami Dolphins kneeled on the sideline with hands on their hearts while “The Star Spangled Banner” played in Seattle. On the opposite sideline, a different scene: The Seahawks listened to the anthem with their arms interlocked. San Francisco backup quarterback Colin Kaepernick inspired the debate by taking a knee before preseason games to call attention to what he termed the oppression of blacks and other minorities. “I still have some family in the struggle,” Peters said. “All I’m saying is we want to educate those, the youth that’s coming up.”

CLOCK WATCH: With no timeouts and the clock ticking under 10 seconds, Cowboys receiver Terrance Williams should’ve veered toward the sideline but didn’t. It cost Dallas a chance at a long game-winning field goal attempt. This benefited the Giants, who held on 20-19, and didn’t have to relive another clock-induced nightmare in Big D. In last year’s season-opener, Eli Manning mismanaged the clock near the Dallas goal line and settled for a field goal that gave the Cowboys the ball with enough time to drive for the winning score. The Giants went on to lose four more games after clock problems last season. “The guy was trying to make a play,” Cowboys rookie quarterback Dak Prescott said of Williams. “You never want to knock a guy trying to make a play.” If only social media were as kind.

COMEBACK KIDS: In 2015, the Chiefs started 1-5 and won 10 straight to make the playoffs. To kick off 2016, they started down 24-3 and scored 30 of the next 33 to get a win. Kansas City topped San Diego 33-27 in overtime. It was the biggest comeback in the 56-year history of the Chiefs. “You’re going to have games like this that show your character, show your grit,” coach Andy Reid said. “I’m proud of the way they handled it.”

GAMES PEOPLE PLAY: Those who had Chargers receiver Keenan Allen on their fantasy roster might want to look at the waiver wire. Allen hurt his right knee against the Chiefs and had to be carted off the field. The Chargers had already lost receiver Stevie Johnson to a knee injury; Johnson caught 45 passes last season. Meanwhile, more than 30 percent of those who play in survivor pools breathed a huge sigh of relief when Russell Wilson led the Seahawks on a late touchdown drive for a come-from-behind 12-10 victory over Miami. The Seahawks were the biggest favorite of the week, at 10.5 points.


Follow Eddie Pells on Twitter at http://twitter.com/epells


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