Jimmy Garoppolo’s final official attempt of Thursday night’s first half was his best. After a slow start, Garoppolo finished with a solid outing in the New England Patriots’ preseason game against the Chicago Bears.
Garoppolo started after Tom Brady was sent home after reportedly cutting his right thumb with scissors before the game and finished 16-of-21 passing for 181 yards and a touchdown before turning it over to rookie Jacoby Brissett midway through the third quarter.
“I didn’t think I was going to [start], and then some stuff came up and I was thrown in there,” Garoppolo said.
The Patriots and Garoppolo did little offensively until the final two minutes of the first half, after the Bears’ starting defense had left the game. After a field-goal drive, the Patriots got the ball back on their own 43-yard line with 1:42 remaining and Garoppolo — thanks to offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels finally loosening up a bit — cut loose.
Garoppolo hit on three straight passes in the two-minute drill, and after a bad misfire he hit Chris Hogan for a 20-yard gain. In business at the Chicago 16, Garoppolo fired his finest pass of the night — splitting the two safeties with a bullet to second-year tight end A.J. Derby, who got to the inside on the skinny post and held onto the touchdown after dropping one earlier. The two-point throw from Garoppolo to Chris Hogan on the crossing route showed patience by the quarterback, but he had ample time and a gorgeous pocket.
Garoppolo led four scoring drives in his six possessions and left the game with the Patriots leading 20-11 after falling behind 11-0. He finished the half completing 12 of 16 passes for 123 yards and a TD.
But Garoppolo started slowly. Sure, receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and rookie standout Malcolm Mitchell did not play, and neither did tight end Rob Gronkowski. Those could be four of the Patriots’ leading receivers, along with Bennett and Hogan, this season. But the Patriots ran the ball eight times and threw it only twice in their first 10 red-zone plays before opening it up. It highlighted how (mostly) passive the Patriots were with Garoppolo and the passing game during the early stages.
Will the Patriots be that conservative with him in a tough regular-season opener at the Arizona Cardinals? What about against tough defenses such as that of the Houston Texans in a short week? Those are questions to keep in mind while soaking up what Garoppolo has done through two preseason games: good, not great.
That could be enough for the Patriots to go 3-1 and be in great shape when Brady returns in Week 5. Or Garoppolo could come out tight, as he has looked in the two preseason first quarters against the first-team defenses of the Bears and New Orleans Saints, and put the Patriots in a tough spot where the team’s defense has to carry the load.
A lot of his throws Thursday — especially early — were of the high-percentage variety. He also had a few open receivers who gained good yards after the catch to perhaps inflate his passing totals. But other than one errant red-zone pass in the Patriots’ first possession of the third quarter that easily could have been a pick-six, Garoppolo mostly took care of the ball.
Expect the tight ends to be a big part of the offense no matter who is out there. Gronkowski will return (likely Week 1) and Bennett will have a big role for certain. Garoppolo hit him on a crossing route vs. man defense to get the Patriots back inside the Bears’ 5 following a Brandon Boldin turnover in the red zone the possession before. Garoppolo should have had another touchdown pass, but Derby couldn’t reel in what looked like a good throw when a Bears DB got his hands on the ball and dislodged it.
Using more two-TE sets likely helps running the ball, too, and when the Patriots appeared to come out Thursday intent on getting the ground game going (and with an offensive line that’s still in flux), it’s going to be a different looking offense than when Brady is out there and at his best.
Overall, it was another mildly encouraging outing for Garoppolo. But it also was one where he, again, looked far better after he knocked off a little rest — and after the defensive starters were wearing ballcaps and not helmets. That can’t carry over into the regular season.
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