Quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo broke out of his summer lull last night by again performing at his best when the lights were bright. The Patriots fell to the Jaguars, 31-24, in the preseason opener at Gillette Stadium, but Garoppolo’s strong performance outweighed the final score of an exhibition game.
“It’s not on purpose,” Garoppolo said of his penchant for playing better in games than practices.
Tom Brady and every meaningful starter got the night off, so the Pats were under Garoppolo’s control for 21⁄2 quarters. He completed 22-of-28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns, and the Pats trailed, 24-17, when he left.
Garoppolo was shaky at times in the opening half, but he was perfect while running the two-minute offense to close the second quarter. The fourth-year pro completed all seven of his passes for 53 yards, including a 3-yard score to undrafted rookie receiver Austin Carr, who outjumped Tracy Howard for a nifty catch in the back of the end zone to cut the deficit to 17-10.
Garoppolo was under pressure throughout the first half mainly due to the backup offensive line that was tasked to protect him. But Garoppolo got it rolling in the hurry-up with a solid 20-yard pass to Carr on the right sideline. He then connected with undrafted tight end Jacob Hollister (seven catches, 116 yards) for 9 yards, though the dangerous throw yielded a high shot to Hollister. Carr (five catches, 44 yards) closed the drive with catches of 4 and 3 yards.
Garoppolo opened the game by going 9-of-14 for 70 yards as the hosts fell behind 17-3 through four possessions.
“Definitely a slow start, not the way we wanted it to go at all, but I think we just came together, made a couple of adjustments and we went out there and executed,” Garoppolo said.
Garoppolo opened the second half with a 17-yard back-shoulder throw to wide receiver Devin Lucien. The quarterback then showcased some veteran savvy by looking off the safety with a quick pump fake to free up Hollister for a 38-yard catch up the left seam.
The drive ended with a 5-yard touchdown to wideout K.J. Maye on a quick screen to the right, and Cameron Fleming made the key block to help Maye tie the game, 17-17. Maye, who signed when Rob Ninkovich retired, had six grabs for 34 yards and has made the most of his time as the 90th man on the roster.
Garoppolo nearly orchestrated his third consecutive scoring drive, as he hit running back D.J. Foster for 17 yards and Hollister for 19 more. But Foster caught a 10-yard pass, made a guy miss and then lost a fumble at the Jaguars’ 8-yard line.
Garoppolo was 13-of-14 for 159 yards and two touchdowns over his final three series.
To be fair, he wasn’t exactly blessed with a lot of help at the start, as the Pats backups faced the Jaguars starters for a couple series.
Still, there will be teaching moments. Notably, he probably should have made a quicker decision before taking a third-down sack on the opening series after Yannik Ngakoue easily beat left tackle LaAdrian Waddle. Garoppolo also scrambled into trouble on another failed third down, and he shanked a check-down throw to Dion Lewis to break the momentum of a scoreless drive.
“The O-line did a great job,” Garoppolo said. “I messed up a couple times with them and hurt them.”
But there were far more shining moments. Garoppolo dodged two blitzers up the middle on third-and-7 to hit Carr for 10 yards. He also made a quick throw under fire to find Hollister in double coverage for 16 yards.
“Getting in a rhythm kind of felt good,” Garoppolo said.
Garoppolo left with a deficit thanks to a couple significant defensive breakdowns. Jags wideout Keelan Cole toasted cornerback Cyrus Jones for a 97-yard TD reception from Chad Henne to give the Jags a 10-3 lead in the first quarter, and Leonard Fournette’s 1-yard scored made it to 17-3 in the second.
And as suddenly as the Pats tied it in the third, the defense gave it right back. Linebacker Elandon Roberts missed a tackle, safety Jordan Richards took a bad angle, and Jags running back Charles Grant sped away for a 79-yard TD on the first play of the drive.