FOXBORO, Mass. — Had Tom Brady been on the sideline to witness it, the New England Patriots quarterback likely would have been impressed with the two-minute drill his understudy engineered Thursday night.
Starting against the Chicago Bears on short notice after Brady had a bizarre run-in with a pair of scissors during pregame, Jimmy Garoppolo methodically marched the Patriots down the field in their final series of the first half.
Operating out of the no-huddle, Garoppolo completed 5 of 7 passes on a seven-play, 57-yard, 85-second drive that culminated in his first touchdown pass of the preseason — a 16-yard strike to tight end A.J. Derby with 17 seconds remaining in the half.
The sequence was the highlight of an all-around encouraging performance by the third-year pro, who finished his night 16 of 21 for 181 yards with the one score as the Patriots won 23-22 at Gillette Stadium. Garoppolo was not sacked and, for the second game in a row, did not turn over the ball.
“Finishing with a touchdown is obviously what you want to come away with,” Garoppolo said after the game. “… Taking the last shot, especially in the first half like that, is really what we always try to do. We don’t want to give them another opportunity to score.
“It was executed pretty well, so it’s something good to build on.”
The touchdown pass was one of three completions on the drive to Derby, who’s making a strong push to nab a roster spot as New England’s third tight end. Garoppolo, who said he found out “literally right before the game” he’d be starting in Brady’s place, relied heavily on his tight ends and running backs throughout night, with 11 of his 16 completions going to non-wide receivers.
Garoppolo did, however, begin to build a strong connection with wideout Chris Hogan, who made his first appearance in a Patriots uniform after sitting out last week’s preseason opener. The former Buffalo Bill caught four of the five balls Garoppolo threw his way, including a juggling grab that went for 25 yards on the opening drive of the second half.
“Obviously, we get a lot of work in during training camp,” Hogan said. “With me being a new guy, you have to be able to communicate with those guys so that they know that we’re both on the same page. Jimmy was able to find me a couple of times, which was great.”
Garoppolo’s night was not perfect, and it ended on a less-than-positive note when his final throw nearly was — and should have been — picked off by Bears lineback John Timu. The Patriots also managed just three points from Garoppolo’s first three drives, two of which stalled out inside the 10-yard line.
Overall, though, it was everything the Patriots could have asked for from the guy who’ll lead their offense for the first month of the regular season — especially when he thought he’d be watching the first few series from the bench.
“Things happen that are unexpected,” Patriots coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s been prepared for that since the day that he got here.”
Thumbnail photo via David Butler II/USA TODAY Sports Images