This felt like a step backward for Jimmy Garoppolo.
The preseason had been shaping up so nicely for him, too. He'd be able to ride the wave of momentum following his strong performance last week against the Bears, and carry that into Carolina, where he would take on a very good defense on the road. What better way to simulate what he'll see in Week 1 of the regular season in Arizona?
Then something happened. Garoppolo, who looked cool last week at Gillette Stadium, seemed rattled by the Panthers defense. The quarterback who hadn't turned the ball over all preseason very nearly gave it away twice. Whereas he made calculated risks in the red zone last week, this week there were head-scratchers in the same area.
"Ups and downs," said Garoppolo, who beat the Panthers, 19-17, and finished the game 9-for-15 for 57 yards. "Just little things here and there we need to get corrected. We’ll take care of it."
Garoppolo's first third-down throw foreshadowed what was to come for the Patriots on third down Friday night. He threw what should have been an easy interception for linebacker Luke Kuechly when there was a miscommunication between him and receiver Julian Edelman.
Edelman stopped and turned for a pass a few yards off the line of scrimmage. Garoppolo targeted him as though he was still moving, hitting Kuechly between the numbers at the Carolina 12-yard line.
The team started the night 0-for-7 on third down.
"It’s my fault. I can’t put it in the linebacker’s hands like that," said Garoppolo, who insisted splitting reps in practice wasn't to his detriment. "It’s just bottom line. Just got to be smart. It’s tight windows, tight throws. Just got to finish with touchdowns."
Later in the game, Garoppolo didn't recognize a Panthers pressure, he took a glancing blow from a defender and escaped the pocket. Rather than throw the football away, he tried to make a positive play and was stripped from behind by linebacker Thomas Davis.
Patriots running back James White was there to pounce on the ball, and Garoppolo was fortunate to escape with his turnover column clean.
Still, Garoppolo knows there are adjustments to make. In order to give the Patriots a chance to beat the Cardinals in Week 1, he'll probably have to play better than he did on Friday.
“We’ll do our best to get in there,” Garoppolo said. “We have two weeks until then and we’ll work. There’s little things here and there. Overall, there’s some good things that we did tonight.
"We just have to get the little things corrected or they’re going to bite us in the butt. We’re going to work our tails off to get to that point. We’ll get there.”