FOXBOROUGH –Under the circumstances, I didn't think Jimmy Garoppolo played all that badly.
He didn't start the preseason opener against Green Bay – Tom Brady made a surprise appearance in the first two series – but as expected, Garoppolo steered the Patriots offense for the rest of the night. He was under considerable duress much of the time and performed better than his stat sheet might indicate.
Things got off to a decent start for the second-year QB, when he connected with wide receiver Josh Boyce on a beautifully thrown pass to the sideline for 16 yards. Next play, he handed off to Jonas Gray, who got some good blocking from fullback James Develin and rookie guard Shaq Mason and rumbled 55 yards for a touchdown.
Then, Green Bay started blitzing – something teams don't normally do during the preseason. But that may have been a blessing in disguise, because it gave us the opportunity to see how Garoppolo would handle the heat. All things considered, I liked what I saw.
Yes, the seven sacks statistic is a little alarming and jumps off the page, but let's put that number in context. He was operating behind an offensive line that did not include a single member of the previous season's starting lineup. His interior was three rookies: Mason, Tre' Jackson at right guard, and undrafted rookie center David Andrews. His tackles were backup Cameron Fleming and 2014 practice squad player Chris Barker. While Mason and Jackson may wind up being the team's starting guards, this was by no means the best o-line the Patriots have to offer.
Still, Garoppolo wasn't flustered by the pressure brought by the Pack. He made quick decisions with the football, and nearly all his throws were either on target or just a hair off. He finished 20-for-30, a respectable two-thirds completion rate, and many of those incompletions were mishandled by receiver Josh Boyce.
Which brings me to my next point: Garoppolo had none of New England's top receiving weapons at his disposal Thursday. No Rob Gronkowski, no Julian Edelman, no Brandon LaFell… not even Brian Tyms or Aaron Dobson. Once Garoppolo started spreading the ball around to other receivers like Brandon Gibson, Chris Harper, Jonathan Krause, and dump-offs to running back James White, the results were more favorable.
If Brady's legal battle with the NFL doesn't succeed and Garoppolo is forced to start in TB12's absence during the first month of the regular season, I think there's reason for Patriots fans to be optimistic about how the young QB might fare. Put him behind the starting o-line, give him the proper targets to throw to, and I think he'll be OK.
Garoppolo showed last summer, as a rookie, that he can elevate his level of play from practice to game night, and that appeared to be the case again Thursday, despite the final score. He's improving and gaining more confidence in the process.
Which is all you can reasonably expect of him at this point in his career and given the conditions in which he's being asked to operate.