LANDOVER, Md. -- Through the first 11 practices of training camp, the New England Patriots' backup quarterback competition had seemed clear cut to many observers. Rocket-armed Ryan Mallett was the No. 2, with rookie Jimmy Garoppolo enduring some rocky moments.
Mallett played the entire first half, the initial two series against a first-unit defense, and the Patriots’ offense didn’t produce any points. He finished 5 of 12 for 55 yards.
Meanwhile, Garoppolo came on in the second half and provided some of the few fireworks of the night against Washington reserves, his decisiveness and long-ball touch evident in going 9 of 13 for 157 yards and one touchdown.
“I did all right. There is a lot of stuff to improve on. It’s a process,” Garoppolo said, echoing words he’s spoken throughout training camp. “For any rookie quarterback, there’s a lot to learn from. We’ll go watch the tape and go fix those things.”
That process had already begun late Thursday night as Garoppolo huddled at his locker with offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels.
On the field, Garoppolo has developed an early rapport with receiver Brian Tyms (five catches, 119 yards, TD).
“The offense, we struggled at times today, but we were clicking at times, too,” Garoppolo said. “It’s stuff to learn from, it’s a process. We’re trying to take it in stride.”
One highlight for Garoppolo was that Thursday night was the first-ever NFL game he’s attended. He admitted that it took a few plays before he settled in, and part of what made the night special was a notable cheering section in the crowd.
“It was really cool -- parents, brothers, grandpa were all here. They got to see it and I haven’t seen them in a while,” he said. “It was a great experience.”
It wasn’t so great for Mallett, who didn’t receive much help from an offensive line that mostly struggled to keep the pocket clean. Now in his fourth NFL season, this was supposed to be Mallett’s time to shine, especially after NFL Network analyst Mike Mayock said that he “popped” in joint practices Monday and Tuesday and was an NFL-caliber starting quarterback.
Mallett acknowledged that there were a few throws he’d like to have back Thursday night, which was likely a reference to two low deliveries in the direction of receiver Brandon LaFell. At the same time, he said, “I feel like I did a few positive things.”
His 15-yard strike to LaFell on the opening drive, which would have converted a third-and-8, was near the top of the list. But a holding penalty on left tackle Nate Solder negated the play, and another breakdown up front led to a sack of Mallett on the team’s second drive.
It seemed like Mallett was consistently facing pressure, a result of some shaky play from the first-unit line of Solder at left tackle, Jordan Devey at left guard, Dan Connolly at center, Josh Kline at right guard and Marcus Cannon at right tackle.
Now he might face a different type of pressure -- from Garoppolo, who took a step forward in closing the gap in the backup quarterback competition.