The New England Patriots went into their final preseason game of 2014 with two pressing questions on offense, and neither was answered conclusively.
The Patriots started Jimmy Garoppolo at quarterback to see if the rookie could be Tom Brady’s backup this season, and Josh Kline played the entire game at left guard in hopes that he could replace Logan Mankins. Both Kline and Garoppolo produced shaky performances, and head coach Bill Belichick might have to go back to the drawing board after he watches the film on Friday.
Garoppolo went 22-for-42 for 284 yards with a touchdown and interception in the Patriots’ 16-13 loss. It was a decent performance for the rookie but not quite as impressive as Garoppolo’s first three preseason games. There still is reason to be confident that the Eastern Illinois product will be the Patriots’ signal-caller of the future, but the Patriots might feel more comfortable keeping Ryan Mallett around in case Tom Brady goes down with an injury at any point this season.
I went into the game thinking that Mallett would be cut and Garoppolo would earn the No. 2 job, but now I’m not quite so certain. Garoppolo has been better than expected this summer, but Belichick is going to want to go into the season feeling confident with the Patriots’ quarterback depth, and carrying three players might still be the best plan.
Garoppolo wasn’t helped out much by his offensive line, which surrendered three sacks to the Giants. Kline, who played the whole game, was supposed to anchor that inexperienced line, which didn’t feature starters Nate Solder, Dan Connolly, Ryan Wendell or Sebastian Vollmer, but the second-year pro allowed two sacks and pressure on Garoppolo’s interception.
The starting left guard, center and right guard roles still are up for grabs, and the Patriots might not show their hand about the five starters until Sept. 7 when the Patriots take on the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 of the regular season. Cannon seems like the best bet to replace Mankins — especially after he got the night off on Thursday night — but Belichick still could decide to start Jordan Devey or even Bryan Stork.
There’s no telling who will start at wide receiver, safety, defensive end or cornerback in Week 1 this season, either. Aaron Dobson, Kenbrell Thompkins and Brandon LaFell are still fighting it out for the X receiver role, Patrick Chung, Duron Harmon, Logan Ryan, Kyle Arrington and Alfonzo Dennard have all seen snaps at safety, Chris Jones, Sealver Silga or Joe Vellano could start at defensive end and Ryan, Dennard, and Malcolm Butler are all possibilities to start at cornerback opposite Darrelle Revis.
Belichick probably enjoys all of the question marks. The Dolphins don’t know what to prepare for, which gives the Patriots a slight advantage as they travel down to Miami in the summer heat.