The joint practices earlier in the week were to the coach’s satisfaction that the Patriots sat out 37 players in the preseason opener, a list that included quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski and cornerback Malcolm Butler, and virtually any player projected to be in the top half of the roster once the regular season rolls around.
That left quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo to start and run the offense for more than a half of the action, to mixed results. The fourth-year backup shook off a shaky start – which came after two weeks of less-than-impressive practice action – to complete 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He had an effective two-minute drive to close out the first half with a touchdown and marched to another score on the opening drive after halftime.
“It’s not on purpose,” Garoppolo said of a growing reputation for far better performances on the game field than he’s able to put up consistently in practice. “I don’t know. I try to go out there and practice well every day with the guys. I mean, you’re trying different things in practice sometimes. You’re working with different guys. But, I don’t know. I don’t think there’s really a rhyme or reason to it. It’s football at the end of the day.”
While Garoppolo was doing his work on offense, New England’s second- and third-team defensive players struggled against the Jaguars. The units allowed three touchdowns of 42 yards or longer, including a 97-yard pass. A day after the effort, Belichick didn’t mince words regarding the poor play that included struggles by former second-round picks in third-year safety Jordan Richards and second-year cornerback Cyrus Jones.
“I’d say there were a lot of problems on all of those plays. Just obviously bad,” Belichick declared, “so we need to do a lot better on that. We’ll just have to correct a lot of things there and see if we can move forward and get better.”
With that in mind, after the Thursday night opener, the Patriots’ head coach scheduled three days without practice. He explained the break in on-field work, leading into a week that includes a trip to West Virginia for joint workouts at The Greenbrier resort with the Texans in advance of the teams’ Saturday night preseason contest in Houston.
“I think we’ve had a pretty good stretch here from the start of training camp,” Belichick said. “We’ve been in pads on all of the days that we’ve practiced other than the day before the Jacksonville game and the first two days of camp. We’ve had a lot of padded practices. We’re going to take a couple of days here and give the players an opportunity to get their legs back under them, try to take care of some of the bumps and bruises and so forth that we’ve accumulated through camp.”
The next phase in the preseason process should include Brady and many others seeing their first exhibition action in Houston, one wrinkle with the joint work with the Texans is that the teams are scheduled to meet in Week 3 of the regular season action at Gillette Stadium.
So, as Belichick and his former offensive coordinator, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien, go about planning their week of work it might be altered a bit with a real, meaningful game little more than a month away.
“I think they’ll be a little bit different. Bill and I will probably work some details out,” Belichick said. “We definitely will work some details out before we get started. We’ve talked kind of in general terms and we have a general format, but I’m sure there will be some specifics. This situation is a little bit different than most other ones that we do. We did this with Tampa Bay (in 2013) where we worked with them and then played a game against them early in the season, so a similar situation with Houston. It’s a little bit different than practicing with a team that you don’t play or that you’re just going to play in preseason and you’re not going to see them again during the regular season. This one’s a little bit different. Bill and I, we’ll talk and we’ll agree on a format.
“Again, the most important thing for us this week is to get better as a football team and to make improvements individually, make improvements collectively on our team that’ll help us over the course of the season. It’s not to try to just gain an edge on one particular opponent. The idea is to try to help our team over the long haul and evaluate our players. I’m sure that he has similar goals in mind. We’ll find a way that we feel is mutually beneficial to be able to do that. I have a lot of confidence in our relationship and our ability to be able to put something together that will be productive, and at the same time not overly sensitive in terms of compromising the competition that we’ll have early in the season.”