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Patriots keep it simple with Tim Tebow

Tim Tebow completed 4 of 12 passes for 55 yards and took three sacks in two-plus quarters.MATT ROURKE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

PHILADELPHIA — The Patriots unveiled three different offenses Friday night in their 31-22 exhibition win over the Eagles.

There was the Varsity offense directed by Tom Brady, who sliced up the Eagles’ defense for two touchdowns in two possessions. Brady completed 7 of 8 passes for 65 yards and a touchdown, spreading the ball around to four receivers and looking as polished as ever.

There was the Junior Varsity offense run by backup Ryan Mallett — it looked similar to the offense run by Brady, but the execution wasn’t quite as crisp and the drives stalled in field-goal range.

And then there was, well, the Pop Warner offense run for the last two-plus quarters when Tim Tebow came into the game.


The Patriots even took the ball out of Tebow the Passer’s hands and gave it Tebow the Runner. Tebow ran four times for 31 yards, including a few inside dive runs out of the “pistol” formation. On one third and 6 — a passing situation for 99 percent of quarterbacks — the Patriots called a quarterback draw, and Tebow picked up the first down with a 12-yard run.

“It was surprising, but it’s either going to be a pass or a draw and that’s the offensive coordinator’s call, and it’s just our job to block,” backup interior offensive lineman Josh Kline said.

“We felt with the look we were going to get that it would be something we would have a chance to convert,” Tebow added.

Ryan Mallett’s injury wasn’t thought to be serious.Matt Rourke/Associated Press

Whereas Brady and Mallett go through their progressions and have four or five receivers at their disposal, the Patriots kept it basic with Tebow. Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels called 15 pass plays for Tebow in his 32 snaps, but they were almost exclusively of the low-risk variety — screen passes and play-action rollouts, in which Tebow was given just one read, and if the receiver wasn’t open he could scramble and make something happen.


Tebow wasn’t very sharp, completing just 4 of 12 passes for 55 yards while taking three sacks.

Of his four completions, two were screen passes, one was a broken play in which Tebow scrambled and found Kamar Aiken for 8 yards, and the other a short pass to Aiken in which the receiver did most of the work for a 15-yard gain.

Tebow missed a wide-open Zach Sudfeld streaking across the field on one play-action rollout, instead holding the ball too long and taking a 5-yard sack. When in doubt, he improvised and chucked it deep to Aaron Dobson a couple of times, though they never connected.

“I think I’ve got room for improvement,” Tebow said. “I did some things well, like to do some other things better. I think that’s what these games are for.”

But the reality of the Patriots’ quarterback situation was on full display after Brady left the game late in the first quarter. Tebow, who signed with the Patriots at the end of minicamp and has really only been practicing with his new teammates for two weeks, is too raw and fresh to have the full use of the Patriots’ playbook. He can do things that Brady and Mallett can’t — like pick up first downs with his feet — but he’s not someone who can find his third option if his first two receivers are covered.


Also revealed was that Mallett, now in his third NFL season, is too important as Brady’s backup to risk injury. Mallett was thumped in the chest and driven to the ground late in the second quarter, and Bill Belichick quickly decided to end his night with what the team called a head injury. Mallett said he didn’t suffer a concussion and didn’t have to take the NFL’s concussion tests, which means he won’t have to miss any practice time this week.

Mallett was a bit inconsistent — he threw a nice 12-yard buttonhook to Dobson and had a great throw on the run to Sudfeld for 22 yards, but also overthrew a wide-open Josh Boyce for what would have been an easy touchdown, and his accuracy on several throws over the middle was a bit off. Overall he finished 9 of 18 for 97 yards and a 66.2 passer rating.

The 50 percent completion rate is too low for the NFL — 60 is generally the minimum acceptable number. The best play he made may have been the block that allowed LeGarrette Blount to cut back and race 51 yards for a touchdown.

“It’s not perfect with anybody. We have some things we need to work on,” Belichick said. “But I thought we did enough good things to move the ball fairly consistently and be balanced.”

This is a big preseason for Mallett, and he knows it. His contract runs out after next season, and the competitor in him will want to go to a team that will let him play. That won’t be in New England, where Brady is locked up through 2017.


Mallett’s 2012 preseason stats didn’t look so hot — he completed just 49.2 percent of passes and compiled a 70.5 passer rating. If he wants a team to trade for him next offseason and make him a starter, he better prove this August that he’s ready.

“He’s definitely improved his game, but off the field as a young man he’s grown up a lot, and you got to appreciate the man he’s trying to become and the things he’s trying to do,” special teams captain Matthew Slater said of Mallett.

“He’s been a professional as well, and that’s something that’s very underrated in this league, guys learning how to be a pro.”

Brady was on point on Friday, and that’s what matters most.

But the Patriots need Mallett if, heaven forbid, Brady goes down at some point this season. He allows them to keep most of the same playbook intact.

Tebow, as we saw Friday, clearly does not.

Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @BenVolin.