EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — It was a fitting end to Ryan Mallett’s preseason Wednesday night against the Giants.
It wasn’t pretty.
Mallett, the Patriots’ surprise third-round pick in 2011, completed 8 of 15 attempts for 40 yards and was sacked twice during the first half of the scintillating 6-3 loss at MetLife Stadium.
In the four exhibition games, Mallett was 33 of 67 (49.2 percent) for 300 yards with three touchdowns and one interception.
No, not exactly the stuff of legends.
What is? Apparently, 31 of 54 (57.4 percent) for 384 yards, two touchdowns, and zero interceptions.
Those, thanks to the hard work of Patriots assistant director of media relations Aaron Salkin, are Tom Brady’s statistics from the 2001 preseason, his second after being drafted and last before becoming a starter.
So to this point in his career, Mallett is no Brady. But who is? It doesn’t mean Mallett is a lost cause. It’s just part of the process for maturing into an NFL quarterback.
Doesn’t mean Mallett is definitely going to be one — the jury is most definitely out on his awareness and ability to make quick decisions — but he has moved in a positive direction.
It’s just difficult to see right now after his statistics slipped from what he posted as a rookie: 36 of 63 (57.1 percent), 357 yards, one touchdown, one interception.
“I mean, there were a lot of things last year I didn’t know, I didn’t really understand because I got there late,” Mallett said, referring to the labor lockout. “I’m not making excuses, just something I might not have gotten. Going into this year, having the spring, having the camp, knowing a little bit about what’s going on made me feel more comfortable.”
Would you hope that Mallett had caught fire in one of these games and lit up the stadium?
Sure. But a lack of success doesn’t mean he’s doomed.
As opposed to the regular season, when Bill Belichick is the league’s best at putting his players in a position to succeed, the coach’s job in the preseason is to prepare the players who will play to get ready for the regular season.
That means the Patriots are running the offense tailored like a glove to Brady.
And for Mallett, that’s three sizes too small.
Brady thrives in a short and quick passing game that maximizes his mental advantage over the defense and most other quarterbacks.
Mallett is the classic big-armed, slow-footed passer of the 1990s. Yes, like the man Brady replaced: Drew Bledsoe.
Can that type of quarterback even succeed in today’s game? Certainly not running this Patriots offense the way it is constituted right now.
On Mallett’s first attempt against the Giants, he threw low to fullback Eric Kettani on a 3-yard pickup that should have gone for 7. On the next play, third down, Mallett took forever to get through his progressions and by the time he decided to dump it to running back Brandon Bolden, linebacker Jacquian Williams nearly intercepted the pass and returned it for a touchdown.
Mallett had a few more plays like that. He panicked and threw high and behind Bolden. Threw another low screen to Bolden. On his final possession, despite finally having good protection, Mallett wobbled a high pass into triple coverage and nearly got receiver Jesse Holley decapitated. Mallett didn’t set himself on his final pass and Holley didn’t help him out by dropping a catchable ball.
Those are the lowlights.
The highlights were two strong passes when facing a rush, and a nice show of arm strength on a bootleg, when Mallett rifled a pass into Alex Silvestro.
The arm — that’s the strength of Mallett’s game. We have yet to see him get an opportunity to air it out, and that’s not his fault. This is a different offense. How many times does Brady go deep during a season?
“I just try to stay with what we’re trying to do as a team, not trying to do too much,” Mallett said of the lack of deep shots. “Just try to play the game like it’s supposed to be played and do what we do within our offense.”
There is much we don’t know about Mallett, and the Patriots are probably in the same boat.
Belichick has talked about this being a competition for the backup spot between Mallett and Brian Hoyer.
What else was he supposed to say — that Mallett had no shot and should get used to riding the bench?
All of the playing time Mallett received in front of Hoyer appeared to be a learning opportunity, not a competition.
Hoyer is going to be a free agent after this season. If the Patriots had designs on going with Mallett as the backup, wouldn’t they show Hoyer for a possible trade?
The Patriots know exactly what they have in Hoyer. They know his strengths and weaknesses should the worst happen to Brady.
The Patriots needed to use this training camp and preseason to find out what they had in Mallett. When Hoyer moves on, is Mallett ready to be Brady’s backup? Could he be the heir apparent?
You don’t find the answers to those questions running the scout team during the season. The preseason is the proving ground for young players. With no offseason last year because of the lockout, this was a big camp for Mallett.
When Mallett was drafted, we heard from the experts how he could be Brady’s successor: a first-round talent who dropped because of off-field issues. In the Patriots system, he could realize that potential.
Mallett doesn’t appear to be there yet.
That’s not cause for concern. It’s part of the process.
“I feel better than I did after the last preseason,”Mallett said, “but I still know there’s a ton of work left to do.”