FOXBOROUGH—For the first two weeks of training camp, New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could not have looked much worse. He was usually good for an interception or a fumble (sometimes both) in each practice.
That's why it was a bit of a surprise when he showed up strong for the Patriots' first preseason game against the Washington Redskins, going a healthy 9-of-13 for 157 yards and a touchdown. That performance came with a caveat: although impressive, he had played mostly against the Redskins' second- and third-string defense.
He didn't let that stop him, though, and he rode that momentum through the past week's worth of practices, including the joint practice sessions with the Philadelphia Eagles.
With another strong performance in the Patriots' 42-35 win against the Eagles on Friday night, going 6-of-12 for 72 yards and two scores, incumbent backup Ryan Mallett should be looking over his shoulder for the remainder of the preseason.
|Jimmy Garoppolo preseason stats, 2014|
On the stat sheet, Garoppolo's night was not stellar. He hit on only 50 percent of his throws for six yards per pass attempt. It wasn't the numbers, but his command of the offense, his decision-making, and his comfort in the pocket—and his ability to escape the pocket—that made him stand out on Friday night.
It was a sampling of everything from Garoppolo. He hit short passes to fullback James Develin and James White out of the backfield, a deep pass to receiver Brandon LaFell down the sideline, and he even made a nice tight-window throw to the back of the end zone on his second-quarter touchdown pass to LaFell.
Garoppolo had struggled with everything in practice. His accuracy has been shaky, and he has been holding onto the ball far too long in the pocket. That all changed against the Redskins, and it has carried over since then.
"I felt good going into this game, had a good week of practice," he said after the game. "Going against another team always brings out the competitive spirit in everyone, so I thought our whole team had a good week this week."
It's now no longer a matter of if but when the Patriots move on from Mallett.
The Patriots' 2014 second-round pick has not yet usurped the 2011 third-round pick for the backup role, but could be on his way at this rate. Mallett has shown signs of life in the fight for the No. 2 spot, and he had a strong performance tonight, but he still looks like a square peg in a round hole when it comes to his fit in the Patriots offense.
His short accuracy is as shaky as his pocket presence, and he struggles with trajectory—putting the right amount of loft to hit his receivers in stride. His mechanics are still a work in progress, even four years into his NFL career.
With one year left on his contract, it seems likely that Mallett will either:
- play this season out for the Patriots and will not return to the team when his contract expires,
- be traded to the highest bidder if and when Garoppolo proves himself to have a firm grasp of the offense, or
- be released if no such bidders exist.
Belichick has carried three quarterbacks in the past, but he clearly prefers not to, having carried two quarterbacks in four of the past five seasons. That extra roster spot could help give the Patriots some extra depth at a thin position like defensive tackle or tight end, or it could help prevent them from making a difficult decision in the secondary, where they currently have a logjam of talented defensive backs.
Garoppolo is going to make the final roster regardless of what happens. There's just no way he would clear waivers in order for the team to put him on the practice squad.
Not that they would want to put him on the practice squad at this point, anyway; He is already starting to prove that he isn't as in over his head quite as he seemed during minicamp, OTAs and the first two weeks of training camp.
What happens from here is going to be a result of the next two games as well as any potential trades that may or may not develop between now and the beginning of the season. Ideally, Garoppolo would prove enough to give the coaching staff confidence in his ability to take over in the event of a worst-case scenario—an injury to franchise quarterback Tom Brady.
If Garoppolo does that, the Patriots decision should be easy. That being said, it will not be easy for Garoppolo to do that in time for the season to start.
Unless otherwise noted, quotes obtained firsthand.