FOXBORO, Mass. — It was only one game, but it just so happened to be Ryan Mallett‘s best as a Patriot.
Another up-and-down preseason from Mallett began to rouse more doubters about the Patriots’ quarterback situation, but Brady’s backup may have put some of those critics to rest Thursday night.
Mallett started the Patriots’ preseason finale in place of Brady, working with the first team — or whichever of them were playing — and building a rapport with some of the younger receivers. The connection between he and both Aaron Dobson and Kenbrell Thompkins was apparent from the start, as they seemed to be in sync on their short-to-intermediate timing routes. Dobson caught two passes for 30 yards from Mallett, and Thompkins pulled down a pair of his own for 24 yards from the backup. But Josh Boyce seemed to have the best chemistry with the third-year quarterback.
Mallett only looked Boyce’s way twice on the night but were able to link up both times, including on the most memorable play of the game. Midway through the second quarter, the Patriots ran a go route for Boyce down the left sideline. Boyce put a double move on Giants cornerback Terrell Thomas, who first stumbled and then fell to the ground, and blazed past him into the end zone to track down a perfectly thrown pass from Mallett over the top for the touchdown.
In the past, well, as recently as last week in fact, Mallett might have overthrown Boyce. He did overthrow the rookie against the Eagles in the preseason opener, missing a wide-open Boyce by about five yards in the back of the end zone. This time, however, Mallett was able to put the right amount of touch on the pass — something he’s struggled with since entering the NFL — and hit the receiver in stride for the score.
“I mean, Josh ran a great route,” Mallett said. “I wasn’t even looking to his side at first. The coverage took me over there and he went and made a great play. I had all day to throw the ball, so you couldn’t ask for [more]. It couldn’t have been drawn up better than that.”
It was maybe the best pass Mallett has thrown with the Patriots — either in practice or a game. He used just the right amount of power, read the route to a tee and didn’t put too much zip on it for once. Mallett seemed to have his missed opportunity with Boyce earlier this preseason in mind on the throw, noting the rookie’s speed while praising him postgame.
“Josh is a fast, fast player,” Mallett said. “I didn’t think I overthrew him. I was hoping I threw it far enough.”
The chemistry the two are building is a positive sign, especially as Boyce looks to establish a bigger role on the first team heading into the season. The even bigger story, though, is that Mallett might finally be asserting himself as a legitimate quarterback behind Brady.
Mallett’s big issue has always been consistency, and it’s been seen time and again this preseason even. But a performance like Thursday adds confidence to the idea that he can fill in on this offense, and without issue, if the Patriots really need him.