Jimmy Garoppolo shows he's capable of leading Patriots' offense

NEW ORLEANS -- There was "good" and "bad" from the New England Patriots' 26-24 preseason win over the New Orleans Saints, but why not start with the obvious "good" with second-year quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo? Here are some quick thoughts on the game:

Garoppolo shows growth: A week made a big difference for Garoppolo, who was confident, decisive and accurate for most of the game in finishing 28-of-33 for 269 yards with one touchdown and one interception. One highlight was a 24-yard touchdown to rookie receiver Chris Harper, escaping the grasp of a defender clinging to his ankle, to cap off a two-minute drive at the end of the second quarter. This was the type of game Patriots fans could look at and have confidence that Garoppolo would be capable if he's called upon should Tom Brady not be available for the first four games of the regular season due to suspension.

When it was starters v. starters, the Patriots looked ...: Not very good. Brady played three series and they were all three-and-outs. Negative running plays on first down on two of the drives didn't help. On defense, the Patriots were mostly carved up by Saints quarterback Drew Brees. It was 21-0 until the Patriots scored with 14 seconds remaining in the second quarter.

Maybe this player could start: Four-year veteran Dion Lewis officially stated his case in the competition to replace Shane Vereen as the team's pass-catching back. He played the majority of snaps in that role after missing the preseason opener, showing a notable burst after the catch, determination in the red zone (11-yard TD run in the third quarter) and willingness to step up and pick up the blitz. He's making a run at 2014 fourth-round pick James White, who took the majority of snaps last week but also flashed a bit against the Saints as well.

One reason to be concerned: The secondary, which was experimenting with Devin McCourty at right cornerback and Duron Harmon replacing him as the center-field type safety, gave up a 45-yard touchdown pass from Brees to Brandin Cooks. Overall, coverage wasn't good early in the game.

A surprise player who caught the eye: Lewis. This is his fourth year in the NFL, as he's been with the Eagles, Browns and Colts. His biggest issue has been health. He was signed by the Patriots, in part because of the influence of Michael Lombardi, the former Browns general manager who now serves as an assistant to the Patriots' coaching staff.

Rookie watch: Harper, an undrafted rookie out of Cal, got the start and played extensively as the Patriots have a run of injuries at the wide receiver position. Still, the fact Harper got extended repetitions over 2013 fourth-round draft choice Josh Boyce was notable. Harper showed up at times as a receiver and returner. At the least, he is a strong practice squad candidate.

Look who's getting the star veteran treatment: For the second week in a row, cornerback Malcolm Butler was removed from the game with some of the team's top defensive players, a group including McCourty and defensive ends Chandler Jones and Rob Ninkovich. After playing just the first series in the preseason opener, Butler was on for just two series in this game.

Who got hurt? The most notable injury was with veteran receiver Brandon Gibson, who limped off and appeared to be in some pain late in the fourth quarter. Also, it's notable that tight end Rob Gronkowski and starting linebackers Jerod Mayo and Dont'a Hightower were held out as healthy scratches. Bill Belichick wasn't taking any chances with them.

A reminder it's preseason: The Patriots called heads, won the opening toss and elected to receive. Since teams have been given the option to decide receiving or deferring when winning the opening toss, the Patriots have consistently been a team that defers. Maybe Belichick just wanted to try to get Brady into an early rhythm.