LANDOVER, Md. — With few of their top players taking the field, the Patriots were shut out for the first 58-plus minutes of their exhibition opener against Washington Thursday night, falling 23-6.
Rookie quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo dropped a pretty fade into the hands of Brian Tyms with 1:37 left to play to get the Patriots on the board. The 2-point conversion attempt failed.
It may have been the first exhibition game, with exactly one month still left until the regular- season opener in Miami, but Patriots coach Bill Belichick sounded none too pleased with what he saw.
“I didn’t think we really did very many things the way we want to do them tonight,” Belichick said. “We just weren’t very good in any phase of the game, had the ball on the ground, didn’t play well enough on defense, didn’t move the ball, were in too many long-yardage situations, not good enough in the kicking game.
“Just overall we’ve got a lot of work to do, that was obvious.”
Ryan Mallett started at QB, his first game snaps since last Aug. 29 in the preseason finale against the Giants. Mallett received a great deal of attention this week when NFL Network’s Mike Mayock called the 2011 third-round pick “a legitimate starting quarterback” and he also received favorable reviews from Belichick and Tom Brady.
With Garoppolo on the roster and Mallett in the final year of his rookie contract, Belichick said earlier in the week Mallett would get a lot of work in the coming weeks, beginning at FedEx Field.
Though Mallett had some problems in the early going, he also didn’t get a lot of help from his teammates.
On the first possession — Belichick strayed from his custom when winning the coin toss and elected to receive — Mallett scrambled and found Brandon LaFell for a 15-yard gain on third and 8. But that was negated by a holding call on left tackle Nate Solder.
It was a rough night for Solder, who also gave up a sack to Brian Orakpo on the second possession.
Though Solder and Sebastian Vollmer were in their usual tackle spots, the interior of the offensive line was quite different. First-year player Jordan Devey was at left guard, Josh Kline was at right guard, and Dan Connolly was at center.
Overall, the offensive line play for the Patriots was unsavory. That has happened in recent preseasons and it has come together by September, but that was with Dante Scarnecchia in charge of the unit. The line is now in Dave DeGuglielmo’s hands, so it is now up to him to get improvement out of that group.
“I don’t think our protection was good enough,” Belichick said. “I don’t think our passing game was good enough, I don’t think our running game was good enough. I don’t think our run defense, pass defense, kicking game were good enough — they all need to be improved.”
At the end of the first quarter, Mallett seemingly converted another third down, this one with a pass to Kenbrell Thompkins, only to have that wiped out by an offensive offside call against Josh Boyce.
Boyce made it up to Mallett on the next play, however, with a 15-yard completion on a third and 10.
“I felt comfortable back there,” Mallett said. “I feel good — everything slowed down, I went through my reads, made a few throws I wish I could have made better . . . have to go through the film.”
Asked if he felt as though he was auditioning for the rest of the league, Mallett answered, “Not at all. I’m playing for the Patriots. I’m playing for my team.”
New England didn’t get into the red zone in the opening half, and its best opportunity to get on the board was a 54-yard field goal try from Stephen Gostkowski, which hit the right upright.
Mallett played the entire first half, and was 5 of 12 for 55 yards. Garoppolo played the second half, and fared slightly better, as he was 9 for 13 for 157 yards, though a third of those yards came on a 53-yard bomb to Brian Tyms on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Garoppolo and Tyms appeared to have connected for a touchdown in the third quarter, with Tyms hanging on for a circus catch against Chase Minnifield. But the officials said it was not a touchdown, though Minnifield was flagged for pass interference.
Tyms, who entered the league in 2012 and spent time with the 49ers, Dolphins, and Browns before coming to New England, is fighting for a spot with his latest team.
Despite getting a fresh set of downs from the Washington 4 after the penalty, the Patriots were not able to punch it in.
“Losing like that is never fun but it is a good experience for the first preseason game and I had fun out there,” Garoppolo said. “I did all right. There is stuff to improve on. It’s a process. For any rookie quarterback, there is a lot to learn from and we will go watch the tape tomorrow and fix those things.”
Of his time with the Patriots, which started with his signing on July 27, Garoppolo said: “It’s been hard work. Trying to find a role, trying to show these guys I belong.”
Of his touchdown, Tyms said, “I was just so excited because that was my first one. I haven’t been in the end zone other than practice, so I was just excited.”
Defensively, the Patriots played mostly with their top backups in the first half, and held Washington starting quarterback Robert Griffin III to a 2-for-4 passing performance in his brief appearance, totaling 9 yards.
Kirk Cousins, his backup, fared far better, completing 9 of 13 passes for 103 yards and a touchdown to Aldrick Robinson.
Colt McCoy did even better than Cousins, completing all but one of his nine pass attempts. He had 102 yards and a touchdown.
Patriots rookie Roy Finch, who has the chance to make the team as a return specialist, did not fare well. On his first return, he was chugging toward midfield when he cut back instead of heading toward the sideline and had the ball knocked out, with Washington recovering.
Fortunately for Finch, the turnover was taken off the board by an offside call, but on the re-kick he only got out to the 23. Later, he muffed a punt, recovered his own fumble, and was flagged for an invalid fair catch signal.Shalise Manza Young can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @shalisemyoung.