What we learned in Jimmy Garoppolo’s first preseason game

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Football returned Thursday night, and while the first exhibition game of the season didn’t count in the standings, it did count, in a way, for the Patriots and quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo.

The third-year quarterback out of Eastern Illinois isn’t the rarely used backup to Tom Brady anymore — he’s the starting quarterback for a Super Bowl contender’s first four games.

Thursday’s preseason game against the Saints was the nation’s first chance to build expectations for that Week One matchup with the Arizona Cardinals on Sept. 11.

Yes, it was only the first preseason game, but we were able to glean a few things from Garoppolo’s 11-of-18, 168-yards performance Thursday.

 

They might have needed to — New England was without two top wide receivers and Rob Gronkowski on Thursday.

Otherwise, there’s one thing we can say for certain after New England’s first preseason game of the year — Garoppolo can throw a screen pass and make a 10-yard sideline out throw. It’s unsurprising that the Patriots were extremely conservative in the first preseason game — that’s the norm for all teams, and if that’s the case you have to imagine the Patriots are going to take it to the nth degree, especially with an enigmatic quarterback.

Garoppolo started the game slow, making five mistakes — a combination of poor throws and shaky footwork — in his first two drives, before settling down and establishing a rhythm toward the end of the first quarter. But even amid that roll, Garoppolo made a couple of poor decisions. His third-and-12 overthrow over the middle, across his body into triple coverage inside the Patriots’ red zone didn’t come back to haunt him — it fell incomplete — but that decision is indefensible in the preseason; how do you think it’ll go over against the starters of the Cardinals, Dolphins, Texans, and Bills?

Despite some points of concern, Garoppolo didn’t do anything so egregious that the Patriots would consider giving his backup, Jacoby Brissett, more snaps in the next week of camp. Garoppolo can make the throws, he has enough athleticism to make some plays in tough situations, and he has two or three more preseason games to find a groove. He won’t be Tom Bradying Tom Brady — one can feel safe making that determination after Thursday — but Thursday’s performance showed no reason he can’t be a league-average quarterback in Brady’s absence.