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Jimmy Garoppolo workmanlike in tune-up vs. Saints

This time around, it matters.

One year ago, Jimmy Garoppolo's healthy batch of preseason snaps were reduced to meaningless fodder once Tom Brady's four-game suspension was wiped away. With that ban locked back in for 2016, Garoppolo's handiwork on Thursday night was packed with regular-season implications.

Chalk it up as a workmanlike tune-up for the Patriots passer.

Garoppolo played the first half of Thursday's "showdown" with the Saints, completing 11 of 18 passes for 168 yards with no touchdowns or picks in the Pats' 34-22 win. The bulk of his real estate came later in the half after New England struggled early, generating just 21 yards -- and a trio of punts -- on their first three drives.

With Brady excused to attend the memorial service of a family member, Garoppolo toiled alongside a slew of low-wattage targets as tight end Rob Gronkowski and wideouts Julian Edelman and Chris Hogan all sat out. The quarterback also absorbed a pair of drive-killing sacks behind a line that had its hands full with the Saints' front seven.

Garoppolo's fourth drive was a different story, though, pegging Aaron Dobson up the sideline for 15 yards before dumping the ball off two snaps later to running back James White, who cycled through the defense for 56 yards to the New Orleans 1-yard line. Power back LeGarrette Blount punched it in from there.

Garoppolo engineered points on the following series, too, guiding the Patriots on a 12-play, 46-yard drive ending in a field goal that saw him move the chains on a fourth-down scramble.

Still, we learned little about this Garoppolo-led offense with so many players out of the lineup. The Patriots largely dinked-and-dunked against the Saints, with New England averaging just 5.9 yards per play over the first 30 minutes.

We don't expect coach Bill Belichick to hand away state secrets during the preseason, but the hope is that Garoppolo is given more to work with against the Bears next week. After all, these exhibition tilts are leading him toward a string of very real and meaningful starts come September.

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