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Blaine Gabbert impresses in Cardinals debut

Arizona Cardinals quarterback Blaine Gabbert (7) throws against the Dallas Cowboys during the first half of the Pro Football Hall of Fame NFL preseason game in Canton, Ohio, Thursday, Aug. 3, 2017. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

It’s hard to imagine Cardinals coach Bruce Arians turning to Blaine Gabbert in an emergency before he turns to Drew Stanton. Stanton has five years of experience in Arians’ offense; Gabbert has three months of experience under Arians and no regular season games.

Gabbert’s signing this offseason is more likely about next year and beyond. He will have to wow Arians in the preseason to beat out Stanton for the backup spot behind Carson Palmer.

Preseason qualifiers aside, it’s hard to imagine Gabbert impressing his coach more than he did Thursday in the Hall of Fame Game in Canton, Ohio. Three months after the seventh-year pro signed a one-year deal for third-string QB money ($775,000), he led the Cardinals to touchdowns on their first two drives against the Dallas Cowboys.

Gabbert completed all six pass attempts on those drives, including a perfectly placed ball over the middle to receiver Brittan Golden for a 35-yard, third-down gain on the first drive, a 20-yard, third-down pass to tight end Troy Niklas and a 26-yard completion to tight end Ifeanyi Momah on the second drive to the Dallas 16-yard line. After a pass interference call on the Cowboys, Gabbert capped the second drive with a sneak for a two-point conversion, giving Arizona a 15-0 lead.

“Blaine was really efficient, calm in the pocket, guys gave him good protection,” coach Bruce Arians said after Arizona’s 20-18 loss. “I love the start. You want to start fast and get a three-and-out and go back and score again. It couldn’t have been any better. A lot of those throws were second and third reads so he went through his progressions extremely well, especially those balls across the middle. That’s what you want to see. Stand calm in the pocket and play football.”

Gabbert’s most impressive pass of the day may have come on the Cardinals’ third drive when he completed a back-shoulder throw to receiver Jeremy Ross with a defender tight in coverage on the other shoulder and a defender closing from the opposite side. It was literally the only place Gabbert could have put the ball safely; the kind of tight-window throw that quarterbacks must have the guts to make and the skills to execute in order to succeed in the NFL.

“I think the third downs were huge,” Gabbert told Arizona Sports’ Paul Calvisi. “Any time you can keep drives alive — and there were some big third downs — any time you can convert on those your percentage of scoring on those drives increases tremendously. We were executing at a high level there.”

About the only gaffe in Gabbert’s night came when he faced pressure up the middle by linebacker Damien Wilson, was sacked and appeared to fumble the ball. The Cardinals recovered and were forced to punt on their third drive. Official stats did not saddle Gabbert with a fumble, however.

Gabbert completed his first eight passes for 140 yards. On the Cardinals’ fourth drive, Marquis Bundy and Andre Ellington dropped consecutive pass (the throw to Ellington was slightly low) to force a second consecutive punt.

Gabbert got an opportunity to practice the two-minute offense late in the half. Starting with 54 seconds on the clock, he completed four of five passes: to Momah for 14 yards, to Bundy for 18 yards, to Ellington for 11 yards and to Bundy for 16 yards. His final pass attempt to get the Cardinals in field goal range fell incomplete when he threw it a bit too far inside to receiver Krishawn Hogan, allowing a pass break-up.

Richie Leone missed a 51-yard field goal just before halftime.

In all, Gabbert completed 11 of 14 passes for 184 yards with a passer rating of 118.8. He displayed both zip and touch on his passes, athleticism in the pocket, and an understanding of the offense.

It was an impressive debut.

“Going into my seventh year, it’s all about execution, especially in the preseason,” Gabbert told Calvisi. “There’s going to be a lot of good film to learn off of and the mistakes that we made, we can correct easily and get ready to roll next week.”

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