FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — The New England Patriots’ fans were looking for answers Thursday night in the team’s first preseason game, against the Green Bay Packers.

With star quarterback Tom Brady’s availability for the start of the season still in doubt as he fights his four-game suspension – and possibly not determined until days before the Sept. 10 home opener against the Pittsburgh Steelers – everyone was looking for a sign that backup Jimmy Garoppolo could handle the position.

Instead, they left Gillette Stadium with many of the same questions and fears.

Garoppolo, the second-year quarterback, had an uneven game in New England’s 22-11 loss.

At times he looked comfortable, made quick/smart decisions and displayed the arm that convinced the Patriots to take him in the second round of the 2014 draft. At others he seemed indecisive, held the ball too long and put it in bad spots for his receivers.

In other words he looked like any other second-year player – in a better place than he was as a rookie but still trying to figure some things out.

“Ups and downs,” he said. “Got a long way to go obviously.”

The Patriots have great faith in Garoppolo; just ask any of them. They believe he has an NFL arm and is smart enough to succeed.

Garoppolo’s biggest problem Thursday night might have been who he was – or wasn’t – playing with. Other than Brady, who was in on seven plays over two series, there wasn’t one starter from the Super Bowl starting offense on the field.

Tight end Rob Gronkowski, wide receivers Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Brandon LaFell, running back LeGarrette Blount, offensive linemen Sebastian Vollmer, Bryan Stork, Nate Solder and Ryan Wendell. All out. Some dressed. Some didn’t.

Instead Garoppolo got to play with second-stringers or guys hoping to earn a spot. He got to throw to guys like Brandon Gibson, Jonathan Krause, Chris Harper and Josh Boyce, a third-year player who is running out of chances.

His offensive line gave him little time. Garoppolo was sacked seven times for 52 yards.

Despite that, his statistics were decent, completing 20 of 30 passes for 159 yards. He threw one interception, on a ball that Boyce simply didn’t fight for with defensive back LaDarius Gunter. The turnover shows up on Garoppolo’s stat line but really belonged to Boyce, who caught just two of the 11 balls thrown his way.

That interception, on the Patriots’ first drive of the third quarter, led to the go-ahead touchdown by Green Bay, a 25-yard run by Alonzo Harris.

In his postgame press conference, Bill Belichick didn’t mention Garoppolo by name, simply saying, “We learned a lot about everyone who was out there tonight.”

Anyone who watched the game saw that Garoppolo has an NFL arm; that given time, he can make the right read and the right throw; that he’s not afraid to tuck the ball and run.

They also saw that he can be harried and that he has a lot to learn about time management.

Maybe the biggest sequence for Garoppolo came at the end of the second quarter. With New England trailing 9-8, the Patriots got the ball back with 53 seconds left at the Green Bay 49.

Two passes to Krause gave the Patriots a first down at the Packers’ 36. A Green Bay penalty pushed the ball to the 31 with 32 seconds left.

On first down, Garoppolo threw deep but incomplete to Boyce. On second down, he was sacked for a 7-yard loss. On third down, he took too much time and had to spike the ball to stop the clock.

As Stephen Gostkowski came out to attempt a 56-yard field goal – which he would make – the giant video board showed a shot of Belichick talking to Garoppolo on the sideline, gesturing toward the field.

It was clear that Belichick was talking about clock management, something he has never had to worry about with that guy named Brady.

And that might be the hardest thing for Garoppolo to do if he is called upon to start the first four – or any – games for Brady. There will be the inevitable comparisons to a guy who has won four Super Bowls.

It’s unfair but it’s going to happen. And that’s when we’ll really see what Jimmy Garoppolo is all about.


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