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Rookie QB Stidham shines in first Pats audition

Ever since they surprisingly traded Jimmy Garoppolo in the middle of the 2017 season, the New England Patriots have been searching for their next possible quarterback of the future. Rookie Jarrett Stidham made a strong first impression in Thursday's preseason opener that it could be him.

Entering the Patriots' 31-3 victory over the Detroit Lions midway through the second quarter and playing the rest of the way, Stidham showed poise and command in finishing 14-of-24 for 179 yards with one touchdown. The fourth-round pick from Auburn delivered two beautiful long passes that would have improved his stat line, but both were dropped by receiver Maurice Harris.

"I had a great time," said Stidham, who was celebrating his 23rd birthday Thursday. "This is my first NFL experience, getting to play. There are a lot of things to improve on, but overall it was a lot of fun. It was a great experience."

The Patriots led 14-0 when Stidham entered the game. He promptly led a touchdown march, completing his first pass for 13 yards to tight end Matt LaCosse, before finding undrafted free-agent receiver Jakobi Meyers for a 5-yard scoring pass.

"The most important thing for a quarterback is not to turn the ball over, make good decisions and throw accurately," coach Bill Belichick said Friday. "He did all those at times."

Stidham said his comfort level has grown in the Patriots' offense, adding that he's trying to learn as much as possible from Tom Brady and Brian Hoyer, the two quarterbacks ahead of him on the depth chart. Brady didn't play Thursday, while Hoyer went 12-of-14 for 147 yards and two touchdowns.

Brady is obviously entrenched as the starter, and Hoyer provides an experienced backup. Stidham could potentially challenge Hoyer, 33, for the No. 2 spot this season, but in the big picture, the main question is if he could be groomed into something similar to what the Patriots had in Garoppolo.

Brady is looking to become the first quarterback to start all 16 regular-season games at age 42. He has said he'd like to play until he's 45, but the club has to be prepared in the event that doesn't happen.

Unlike Garoppolo, who was a late second-round pick (No. 62) and had immediate expectations to live up to, Stidham faces less pressure as the 133rd overall pick.

"I'm in a new offense, so just trying to learn everything as a whole and kind of how we operate -- sitting in the pocket and trying to make the throws when I can," Stidham said. "From Day 1 to now, I've grown so much. I've got to continue to grow."

Belichick seemed pleased with Thursday's debut.

"I thought our overall passing game was pretty efficient," he said. "The quarterbacks got the ball out on time, the receivers caught the ball, we protected fairly well."