FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- If quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo plays as he did in Thursday's 23-22 preseason victory over the Chicago Bears, the New England Patriots should be just fine over the first four games of the regular season in Tom Brady’s absence.
Garoppolo started in place of Brady -- who had a pregame accident in which he sliced his right thumb with scissors -- and played into the third quarter. In a marked improvement from the preseason opener, Garoppolo finished 16-of-21 for 181 yards, with one touchdown and no interceptions. He was on the field for 45 snaps and wasn’t sacked.
Garoppolo was mostly decisive with his reads as the ball came out quickly. His most impressive work came in directing a seven-play, 57-yard touchdown drive at the end of the second quarter in the hurry-up offense.
One of the few blemishes was another slow start with a three-and-out, but he came on quickly after that.
When it was starters vs. starters, the Patriots looked …: Defensively, this was far from the Patriots’ best work. The Bears, who were held scoreless in their preseason opener by the Broncos, opened an 11-0 lead in the first quarter and ran 21 plays. Defensive holding penalties on cornerback Justin Coleman and safety Patrick Chung negated third-down stops that could have ended the Bears’ 11-play touchdown drive.
A surprise player who impressed: Keep an eye on second-year defensive tackle Anthony Johnson (LSU). He was called upon as an interior sub rusher and showed notable explosion in the role. The 6-foot-2, 295-pound Johnson entered the NFL as an undrafted free agent with the Dolphins in 2014 and made their roster that year, playing in seven games before landing on injured reserve (ankle) in December. He didn’t make the Dolphins’ roster in 2015 and spent half the year on Washington’s practice squad. The Redskins had re-signed him this offseason but released him in early May. The Patriots signed him seven days later.
Derby makes his case at TE: Everyone talks about top tight ends Rob Gronkowski and Martellus Bennett, but there’s an open competition for the No. 3 role behind them. AJ Derby, a 2015 sixth-round pick from Arkansas, made two challenging receptions to put himself on the radar. He’s showing up more consistently than veteran Clay Harbor.
Heavy emphasis on the running game: The Patriots ran 12 of the 45 snaps played by Garoppolo with a lead-blocking fullback on the field, which reflected how they wanted to work on that grouping and focus on the running game. Also, offensive tackle Cameron Fleming was used as a blocking tight end on 12 of the first 45 snaps. LeGarrette Blount (8 carries, 48 yards, TD), in particular, ran hard as the top power back.
One reason to possibly be concerned: The Patriots were without starting defensive ends Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard, and also starting cornerback Logan Ryan, and the top D struggled to put together the desired mix of consistent pass rush and good coverage.
Top pick gets first pick: Cornerback Cyrus Jones, the Patriots’ top draft choice (No. 60 overall, second round), intercepted Bears backup QB Brian Hoyer in the second quarter by looping around receiver Joshua Bellamy to set up the Patriots at the Bears 15. Three plays later, the team had its first touchdown of the game.
Who didn’t play? The Patriots had 17 players who didn’t dress for the game: Brady; defensive ends Ninkovich, Sheard and McClellin; tight end Rob Gronkowski; receivers Julian Edelman, Malcolm Mitchell, Danny Amendola and Keshawn Martin; running backs D.J. Foster and Donald Brown; cornerback Logan Ryan; tight end Bryce Williams; defensive tackle Alan Branch; and offensive linemen Tre’ Jackson, Shaq Mason and Sebastian Vollmer.
Who got hurt? The Patriots appeared to come out of the game clean.