Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo still has three more preseason games to go before he starts a game that counts for the New England Patriots. It looked like he’ll need the extra work before the regular season.
Garoppolo, who will start the first four games of this season for the suspended Tom Brady, was decent but far from great in Thursday’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints. He made a few short throws but also was off on others. It was a meaningless game and not a fair test of how Garoppolo will play in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals, but it’s fair to say that he needs to be better than he was Thursday night.
It was Garoppolo’s night; Brady wasn’t even at Gillette Stadium because he was excused to attend memorial services for a family member.
The Patriots were mostly conservative with Garoppolo at quarterback. That might be a function of it being the preseason, but rarely did the Patriots dial up anything deep while Garoppolo was in.
He made some mistakes. He took a sack early in the first quarter when he held the ball way too long. On a third-and-7 in the first quarter, he threw an out route but it trailed too far inside and was broken up. On third-and-14 later in the first quarter Garoppolo had James White wide open on a short route but missed him badly, perhaps because of a miscommunication. Garoppolo missed some throws he can’t miss in the first four games of the regular season.
Garoppolo also had some good moments. He delivered a few passes in rhythm, including a third-down conversion to tight end Martellus Bennett over the middle when he got good protection. He did a nice job to wait for a screen to White to develop, holding onto the ball until the last possible moment and then delivering it just before safety Roman Harper hit him. White took the short pass and ran for a 56-yard gain. Even though it wasn’t a long throw, Garoppolo deserves a good amount of credit for that play.
Garoppolo also showed some athleticism on a fourth down in the second quarter, pulling the ball down and running for the first down. After that fourth-down conversion, Garoppolo had perhaps his best throw of the night, moving in the pocket and keeping his eyes downfield to find rookie Malcolm Mitchell open for 24 yards (Mitchell later left the game after an ugly elbow injury). Garoppolo couldn’t finish that drive though. On the play after Mitchell’s big gain he missed fullback James Develin in the flat on what should have been an easy pass. Then he had a poor decision on third down, rolling left and throwing back across the field to the right — he was lucky the pass was batted away and not intercepted. The Patriots settled for a field goal.
Later in the first half, the Patriots went for it on fourth down, and Garoppolo delivered a nice throw to White in the end zone, but the linebacker knocked it away at the last moment. That would have made Garoppolo’s night look better. Garoppolo’s numbers weren’t bad. He finished the first half 11-of-18 for 168 yards, no touchdowns and no interceptions. Rookie Jacoby Brissett replaced Garoppolo to start the second half.
On the Patriots’ television broadcast, coach Bill Belichick was asked about Garoppolo. In typical Belichick fashion his answer was about the team without specifically addressing Garoppolo, but his answer worked as a good assessment of his quarterback.
“I think we’re competing pretty well, we’ve got some things we need to execute a little better,” Belichick said. “But it’s the first preseason game, so that’s about right.“
Garoppolo was in the same position last year, going through most of the preseason assuming he’d start the first four games. Then Brady’s suspension was overturned, something that won’t happen this year. And Garoppolo played well last preseason, and has looked fine in the limited regular-season work he’s had.
Thursday was a brief snapshot of Garoppolo, and no sweeping conclusions should be made off it. He did some good things, and there were some things to clean up too. He still has three more games to smooth out the rough edges.
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