New England rookie quarterback Jarrett Stidham was 14-for-24 for 179 yards and a touchdown in the Patriots’ preseason opener at Detroit on Thursday night. AP Photo/Rick Osentoski

DETROIT — A summary of Jarrett Stidham’s NFL debut Thursday night with the New England Patriots against the Detroit Lions could begin with any of a dozen highlights. But his most impressive moment came on an incompletion.

Facing a third-and-9 from the Detroit 41, Stidham took a shotgun snap, quickly scanned the field, then stepped up in the pocket to launch a deep ball for Maurice Harris. The ball, perfectly placed by the rookie quarterback, landed in Harris’ chest at the 5, but Lions cornerback Mike Ford smacked Harris’ right arm just as the pass arrived, preventing Harris from hauling in the reception.

There was no pass interference called and the Pats didn’t bother to challenge (it’s the preseason, after all). Even though the drive ended in a punt, the play provided further evidence that Stidham – thanks to a combination of deep-ball accuracy and mobility – is an intriguing prospect to develop behind Tom Brady.

“You can see why the staff wanted to have him here,” said veteran tight end Ben Watson. “(Quarterback) is a very tough position, especially in this offense. So to be able to come in day in and day out, take the corrections and bring it to the field, that’s what we’re all trying to do. And that’s definitely what he’s done.”

“Jarrett, he’s good,” Harris said. “We’ve got to continue to work and do better. But Jarrett did a really good job tonight for it being his first time.”

Stidham, who turned 23 on Thursday, entered the game with 8:18 remaining in the second quarter. He got rolling with a 10-yard scramble on a third-and-10. Stidham sprinted right, cut back when he got to the sideline, then tucked the ball while diving past Lions safety Will Harris just beyond the first-down marker. Three plays later, Stidham connected with fellow rookie Jakobi Meyers for a 5-yard score on a slant route.

By the end of the night, Stidham was sealing a 31-3 victory with a series of kneeldowns.

“It was a lot of fun,” Stidham said. “A lot of things to improve on, so I’m really looking forward to watching film (Friday) and seeing what I can improve.”

Stidham’s deep-ball accuracy, which stood out against the Lions, also was evident on the practice field. During an Aug. 1 session, when Stidham spent most of the morning watching behind Brady and Brian Hoyer, he stepped in for 11-on-11 drills, and immediately hit Meyers and N’Keal Harry for back-to-back touchdowns down the right sideline. As Hoyer said this past week, “No matter how smart you are, no matter how crafty you might be, when it comes down to it, you’ve got to be able to drop back and throw the football. And Jarrett has shown he can do that.”

On Thursday night, Stidham also exhibited confidence and composure, finishing 14 of 24 for 179 yards and a touchdown.

In the closing minutes of the second quarter, he scrambled up the middle for first down on a third-and-3. On the ensuing snap, he patiently hung in the pocket and delivered a strike to Meyers for a gain of 26, the longest play from scrimmage of the night for the Pats.

At the six-minute mark of the third quarter, Stidham remained in the pocket again – this time with a massive defensive tackle charging at him – and fired to Braxton Berrios for a 17-yard pickup. Stidham absorbed a big hit on the release but delivered the ball accurately – a play that cannot be simulated on the practice field.

The Pats have watched Stidham excel throughout training camp. Now they’ve seen it in a game setting.

“He’s worked hard in camp,” Watson said. “Like all of us, he’s got a long way to go toward building. But it’s always good when you come in and you’re able to run the offense efficiently.”

Stidham expressed a similar feeling.

“I think from Day One to now, I’ve grown so much,” Stidham said. “I’ve got to continue to grow. There’s a ton of stuff that I still don’t know and that I still have to continue to learn.”

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