FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — New England Patriots quarterback Jimmy Garoppolodidn’t implode in Thursday’s preseason opener against the New Orleans Saints, nor did he steal the show in playing 40 first-half snaps while finishing 11-of-18 for 168 yards. The most impressive offensive player for the Patriots in their 34-22 win was rookie receiver Malcolm Mitchell (fourth round, Georgia), but he left the game late in the first half with a left arm/elbow injury that had him rushing to the locker room with a member of the team’s medical staff holding his arm close to his body. Mitchell was clearly in pain.
Maybe that player could start: Mitchell was the Patriots’ best receiver, as he continued to separate from his primary competition, Aaron Dobson, Chris Harper and Nate Washington. His speed, route-running and dependable hands stood out as he was positioning himself to join Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Chris Hogan atop the depth chart. The severity of his left arm/elbow injury becomes a significant story for the Patriots.
Ups and downs for Garoppolo: The third-year quarterback started slow (3-of-7 for 33 yards) before closing with eight completions on his final 11 attempts. His 56-yard screen pass to running back James White was perfectly executed as he drew the defense in before delivering an on-the-mark pass. He later threw an ill-advised pass over the middle that easily could have been intercepted, which reflected how there were some good teaching points for him to digest in the game.
Filling the Ninkovich void: With starting defensive end Rob Ninkovich(torn triceps) sidelined, the Patriots had veteran Chris Long start in his place. Then in the second half, defensive end Trey Flowers strip-sacked quarterbackLuke McCown and returned it 17 yards for a touchdown. The 2015 fourth-round draft choice from Arkansas had sacked Aaron Rodgers in the 2015 preseason opener but injured his shoulder in the game and later landed on injured reserve after playing in just one regular-season game. He could be a bigger factor this year with Ninkovich sidelined at least four to six weeks.