With quarterback Tom Brady and the bulk of the New England Patriots’ projected starters watching from the sideline, the defending Super Bowl champions opened the preseason Thursday night with a 31-24 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in Foxborough, Massachusetts.
New England’s defense struggled, allowing three touchdowns of 42 or more yards on the night, including a 97-yard touchdown pass from Jacksonville backup Chad Henne to Keelan Cole, who blew by Patriots second-year cornerback Cyrus Jones on the way to the end zone.
Jacksonville’s third-string quarterback, Brandon Allen, got into the big-play fun with a 42-yard touchdown pass to Dede Westbrook, and running back Corey Grant burst through the middle of the New England defense on the way to a 79-yard touchdown.
The Jaguars moved the ball well most of the night as top pick Leonard Fournette debuted, carrying nine times for 31 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Patriots backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, the subject of many offseason trade rumors, started under center and played well in more than a half of action. After a slow start, the fourth-year player completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and two touchdowns.
The Patriots got some major contributions from a couple of undrafted rookies. Slot receiver Austin Carr had five catches for 44 yards, including a jumping 3-yard touchdown grab in the back of the end zone from Garoppolo as he fell to the turf. Tight end Jacob Hollister was the home star of the night, though, with game highs of seven catches for 116 yards.
Grant tallied 120 yards on eight carries, while Westbrook had 108 yards on his three catches, buoyed by the long touchdown.
After joint practices earlier in the week in which the Jaguars’ passing attack struggled mightily, Jacksonville’s backup passers — Henne and Allen — heated up as they completed a combined 10 of 13 passes for 224 yards and two touchdowns, each topping a 150 passer rating.