EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. –** It wasn't his greatest night this preseason.
Rookie QB Jimmy Garoppolo was given the opportunity to play the entire preseason finale against the New York Giants, and compared to his previous three appearances, this was his most imperfect performance.
Garoppolo threw his first interception of the preseason on the third drive of the game. He actually had a deep pass picked off earlier in the game, but it was nullified by a Giants penalty. He also suffered his first sacks of the preseason. Many of his passes were just a bit off-target, as well.
Here's the good news… New York actually did Garoppolo a bit of a favor. Many of the rookie's first half snaps came against a Giants defense that was playing a significant number of starters. It was his first extended action against top-flight opponents this preseason.
The New England Patriots visit the New York Giants in a preseason game on Thursday, August 28, 2014.
Furthermore, he shook off those early misfires and kept his composure, responding to a Giants field goal with a well-timed and placed touchdown toss to Aaron Dobson early in the second quarter and another scoring drive as the first half came to a close.
Inconsistency shadowed the rookie all evening, much as it had for the first couple of weeks of training camp. He'd been playing at a higher level since the preseason games started and kept that up in the practices that followed. His inability to convert a 4th-and-1 pass late in the fourth quarter proved the difference in the game's outcome, as the Giants took over in Patriots territory and kicked the game-winning field goal.
All that said… I've been impressed with Garoppolo's growth in a short period of time. In particular, his pocket presence stands out. He's not rattled by the pass rush, moves with a veteran poise to avoid it, and even seems to sense when it's coming. That's something that can't be taught – a composure that belies Garoppolo's professional inexperience.
He also already seems to have a solid command of the offense and a take-charge attitude in the huddle. Even though he compared digesting the Patriots' hefty playbook to "learning a new language," he doesn't look lost on the field, like so many young passers do at this stage of their careers. For the most part, his mistakes haven't been foolish ones, just minor physical or mental ones.
His dealings with the media have also been handled deftly. In postgame remarks to the press, standing at the team's official podium, he offered all credit for his touchdown pass to his receiver. And when discussing his interception, he took full blame and responsibility. He looks like he belongs at this level, even if his polish isn't quite at its shiniest yet.
Garoppolo still has a whole lot to learn about the pro game in general and the Patriots offense in particular. No question about it. However, in his four games this August, he has acquitted himself very well, all things considered.
This will, in all likelihood, be the last extended playing time Garoppolo sees for the foreseeable future. The live-action reps he received against New York are invaluable experience, however. Comparing him to Ryan Mallett at this stage of their careers, my eyes tell me Garoppolo is already ahead of where Mallett was at this point as a rookie – and by a considerable margin.
The Patriots coaching staff has a decision to make now. Has Garoppolo shown enough to supplant Ryan Mallett as Brady's immediate backup? Or will they play it safe and keep Mallett as the Number 2?
I believe he's ready.
"I'm ready to do whatever they ask me to do," a confident Garoppolo told reporters afterward.
Either way, the team and its fans hope they won't have to find out the answer anytime soon.