DETROIT — It’s early. Too early, in fact. But the New England Patriots might have found a good one in rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham.
Stidham went 14-of-24 with 179 yards, a touchdown and one sack for no loss in his preseason debut after taking over for Brian Hoyer midway through the second quarter of the Patriots’ 31-3 preseason win over the Detroit Lions. He also rushed four times for 16 yards.
He led the Patriots on a touchdown drive in his first possession and on three scoring drives overall. He probably should have had at least one more touchdown pass if officials hadn’t missed a pass interference penalty on a deep pass to Maurice Harris early in the third quarter.
If you’re looking to compare Stidham’s first stat line to recent Patriots rookie quarterbacks, well then you’ve come to the right place.
Brian Hoyer: 11/19, 112 yards, two sacks
Ryan Mallett: 12/19, 164 yards, TD
Danny Etling: 2/5, 21 yards
Jimmy Garoppolo: 9/13, 157 yards, TD
Mallett proves that preseason debuts can be deceiving, but Stidham’s performance was most reminiscent of Garoppolo’s first game. Except it comes with more context.
Garoppolo, who’s now the starting quarterback of the San Francisco 49ers, struggled in his first training camp then broke out in a big way in the preseason. Stidham has been this guy for two weeks now. That Stidham looked poised and threw a pretty, accurate ball came as no surprise to anyone who’s been paying attention.
“He’s been great,” wide receiver Braxton Berrios said Thursday night. “Truly. He’s been great.”
Patriots head coach Bill Belichick was praising Stidham days into training camp. Stidham has even taken some second-team reps from Brian Hoyer in practice. He certainly showed a strong grasp of the offense Thursday night. And he also showed he could stay in the pocket and make big throws with live pass rushers. Quarterbacks can’t get hit in training camp, and Stidham struggled at times under pressure at Auburn in his sophomore and junior seasons before declaring for the draft.
“It’s always great to get back into live football,” Stidham said. “You can’t really simulate that in practice. It was great to get out there with bullets flying and play some real football.
Like Garoppolo did in 2014, Stidham has taken a leadership role over fellow rookies in training camp so much so that some rookies forget he’s also a first-year player.
“That’s our guy,” wide receiver Gunner Olszewski said Friday. “That’s our leader. He always takes command of the huddle every time he’s in there with us younger guys. He’s a younger guy too, but he does a good job of calming everybody else down and telling us, ‘Here we go. Let’s do it.’ He’s done a good job of just taking the reins of our rookie class, our basic group. He runs it. He’s done a great job. I’d follow that guy anywhere.”
Stidham’s confidence stands out most to Olszewski.
“He does a great job in the meeting room for our rookies,” Olszewski said. “We gotta make the veterans laugh, and he’s always one of the first people to jump up there and tell a joke. All of us are nervous. That’s one thing I’d say is he’s shown no nervousness. It gives a receiver a ton of confidence when you’re in the huddle. And Jarrett’s saying the play and looking you in the eye. I could ask him, “what do I do, Jarrett?” And he would know. He plays very confident. I love playing with him.”
Stidham also makes sure that young receivers, like his former college teammate Ryan Davis, get targets in their spare time if they’re not getting enough snaps in practice.
“He’ll have us doing rookie walk-throughs,” Davis said. “Just trying to make sure the rookies are up to par even though we might not be getting as many reps in practice. But we make sure we stay after and throw, do as much as we can. We all just try to stay up to par and try to do the best we can after. I feel like he’s done a great job with what they’ve asked him to do, and I feel like he will continue to do so.”
It’s early. We know. But Stidham seems to have everything the Patriots look for in a quarterback. The timing for Garoppolo to be Tom Brady’s heir apparent didn’t work out. Maybe it could with Stidham.