FOXBORO – You know what it is with Ryan Mallett? It’s the first impressions.
Last week against the Eagles, he seemed jumpy in his first series but settled in pretty well afterward and had an OK outing.
Friday night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Patriots backup was again sluggish from the gate. But as the second quarter moved forward, so too did Mallett’s progress.
By the end of his stint, he’d gone 12 for 20 for 137 yards and a touchdown. In his four drives, Mallett had a three-and-out, an eight-play field goal drive, a five-play touchdown drive and a 10-play drive that ended with a 50-yard field goal miss.
Mallett feels the same thing everyone is seeing.
“You gotta hit the easy ones,” said Mallett. “I gotta get into a rhythm when I start playing. I gotta start quicker.”
It wasn’t a remarkable overall performance by Mallett but it was wholly competent. In fact, it may have been his best performance for the Patriots since his rookie preseason when he looked pretty sharp.
Mallett’s first attempt Friday night was well thrown in the flat to Kenbrell Thompkins. But on a third-and-6, Mallett looked back to Thompkins and seemed to hurry his throw without reason, short hopping Thompkins with the ball nosediving into the turf.
On the Patriots’ next drive, Mallett had a nice underneath throw to Shane Vereen for 13 yards, hit Michael Hoomanawanui for 14 and ripped a dart to Julian Edelman on the right sideline to get the Patriots to the Bucs 21. But on second-and-5, rookie Aaron Dobson –- working against press coverage –- tried to get inside his man and then press back to the boundary where Mallett lofted a pass that landed on the field numbers. Dobson was unable to uncover and the pass went to the turf.
On his third drive, Mallett and the Patriots went no-huddle and the third-year quarterback went to work with completions of 23 yards to Aaron Dobson, 12 yards to Edelman, 18 yards to Vereen and then a 22-yard touchdown pass to Zach Sudfeld who made a remarkable juggling catch.
Mallet said Sudfeld’s catch was “tremendous.” When it was pointed out that he threw into a tight window, Mallett laughed and said, “Guys aren’t gonna be wide open, you gotta put ‘em in there sometimes!”
Scrutiny was directed Mallett’s way this week when Brady left Wednesday’s practice with a slight knee injury. His suitability for being an injury away from the starting job was much discussed. Friday probably won’t completely change the minds of those who don’t think Mallett’s good enough to approximate Brady. But nobody can. As backup quarterbacks go, the Patriots aren’t in terrible shape. As long as Mallett keeps progressing.
“It felt good to get back there and throw it man,” Mallett offered. “It felt good with the guys blocking so I was trying to get the ball to our receivers but we’ll hit those. It’s concentration. There’s gonna be times you make mistakes, you just have to learn from them.