FOXBORO -- Jarrett Stidham took the field in the first quarter Thursday night with Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Demaryius Thomas and didn't look out of place.
It wasn't perfect. He was playing behind an offensive line of backups, and he was pressured more than once. The ball wasn't always out right on time. But Stidham led a 10-play, 62-yard drive that resulted in three points. And all three of his well-accomplished receivers caught at least one pass.
Stidham looked like a capable NFL backup. That's been the case all summer, but what made Thursday different was that he looked like a capable NFL backup while throwing to the receivers he'll have to throw to if he's ever called to fill in for Tom Brady as the Patriots backup.
The only question now is if he'll get the No. 2 job.
"I think whatever decision is made, whatever my role is on this team, that's what I'm going to do," Stidham said when I asked him how comfortable he'd be if given the gig over Brian Hoyer.
"Whatever it is, I'm going to continue to work as hard as I possibly can to do that and to help the team in whatever way I can, so that's kind of how I'm looking at it."
Stidham finished the game completing 18 of his 28 attempts for 225 yards, two touchdowns and an interception that was picked off when he was hit as he threw. He flashed many of the same impressive traits he flashed throughout the course of training camp and the preseason: He was athletic, running for 50 yards on seven scrambles; he was accurate down the field, hitting Thomas for a 35-yard touchdown; he was willing to stand in the pocket, keep his eyes down the field and take a hit if he had to.
But Stidham flashed some of the flaws that have peppered his performances over the last month or so: He was late at times to pull the trigger; it took him an extra beat or two to process what he was looking at, it seemed.
Despite his strong summer, one in which he's improved demonstrably, one in which he might've beaten out a very capable veteran backup, those down moments seemed to be the ones Stidham focused on with preseason play in the rearview.
"A lot of mistakes," Stidham answered when asked how he'd assess his four exhibition games. "Good learning, great learning. I've been able to really sit back and watch the film with Josh [McDaniels] and the coaching staff and just figure out what I need to do to get better. That was my whole focus this preseason, was just to get better every single day and continue to grow from game to game."
And if he could avoid being a repeat offender with some of the errors he committed, all the better.
"That's definitely my outlook on it, is to try not to make the same mistake twice," he said. "I think there's been some times where I've done a good job of that and then some times where you've got to reiterate it and continue to get better from it."
Stidham's certainly gotten better since the team's first competitive practice in training camp when he seemed to be choking the life out of the football in the pocket on a snap-to-snap basis. Now if he holds it too long, it's for a fraction of a second.
For instance, on his second touchdown to Thomas near the Giants goal line, he appeared to have Thomas open on a slant but didn't hit it as Thomas came out of his break. Instead, Stidham broke the pocket, rolled to his left, and found Thomas rolling with him in the back of the end zone.
On a quick out to Gordon during the game's first drive, Stidham had an opportunity to lead his big-bodied wideout to the sideline for a first down. Instead, the ball came out a hair late, and it was broken up by Ronald Zamort. Drive over.
Those are nit-picky issues that could be cleaned up with more snaps. Stidham has gone from interminable reps behind center early this summer -- searching, searching for someone to come open -- to a much snappier decision-maker in about a month. What might he look like if he gets more practice opportunities deep into the fall and winter?
"The more reps I get, the more comfortable I get, the more I can dish the ball out to those playmakers and let them do their thing," he said Thursday night. "The offensive line has done a really good job this preseason in holding up those defensive line guys. Yeah, I'm just trying to get the ball out as quick as I can."
If he's the No. 2 quarterback on the roster he'll have a shot to continue on the road he's traveled to this point as a pro, making progress with heaping helpings of snaps day after day. Based on the potential he's shown and the improvements he's made, it looks like he's earned that chance.
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