Scott Tolzien to start at Giants

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Tom Silverstein, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Monday, November 11, 2013

GREEN BAY—If the Green Bay Packers are going to survive the absence of the franchise’s most important player, they’re going to have to do it with the roster’s least experienced player.

Before Sunday, quarterback Scott Tolzien not only had never appeared in an NFL regular-season game, he had never been in uniform for one. And as far as the Packers were concerned, if everything went well against the Philadelphia Eagles he would still be looking for his first professional snap.

But that’s not the way the 2013 season has gone for the Packers, and so 9 minutes, 8 seconds into the first quarter of his first game on a 53-man roster, Tolzien trotted out toward the south end zone at Lambeau Field and prepared to take over the job Aaron Rodgers has held since the 2008 season.

For the second straight week, the backup had to play.

“I’ve never lost a quarterback after the first series two weeks in a row,” coach Mike McCarthy said after the Packers’ 27-13 loss to the Eagles. “It’s an unusual situation.”

Tolzien played well enough against the Eagles that McCarthy declared him the starter against the New York Giants, ruling out veteran Seneca Wallace, who left after one series because of a groin pull. The previous week, Wallace came into the game after one series because Rodgers broke his left collarbone.

When he discovered that Rodgers would be out about a month, general manager Ted Thompson signed Tolzien off the practice squad Wednesday to be his backup quarterback. Tolzien spent the week preparing to play against the Eagles, but got only a couple of snaps because the priority was to get Wallace ready.

Then all of a sudden he found himself entering the game with the ball on the Packers 6-yard line and a 7-0 deficit.

“It’s two weeks in a row,” McCarthy said. “I mean, you have a guy that goes through the week and takes all the reps. Unfortunately, he (Wallace) suffered the injury there in the first series.

“I thought Scott did a hell of a job. We’re running plays he hasn’t even practiced yet. He comes here, and it’s a totally different language from where he’s been his first two stops. For the most part, he was seamless in the huddle.”

Under center, Tolzien looked more capable than the 33-year-old Wallace, firing passes with some steam on them and standing in the pocket amidst heavy blitzing from the Eagles. He completed 24 of 39 passes for 280 yards and a touchdown with two interceptions.

The unsavory part of his performance was the missed opportunities inside the Eagles’ 25-yard line. In four tries, he was able to get the Packers into the end zone only once. The other drives resulted in two field goals, a turnover on downs and a costly interception.

“You always start with where you can get better and there are specific plays that you wish you had back,” said Tolzien, who knocked around in San Diego and San Francisco after playing collegiately at Wisconsin. “The first one I think about is the pick in the end zone. We had an awesome opportunity there and got a good look for the play we were running.”

It was the second quarter and the Packers were down, 7-0. The ball was at the 5-yard line and Tolzien underthrew a touch pass to receiver Jordy Nelson in the corner of the end zone. Cornerback Brandon Boykin picked it off and returned it 76 yards.

Nelson said he thought Tolzien would learn from it.

“He came over and said something right away,” Nelson said. “The DB made a great play undercutting the route. Obviously, it was a big play in the game. We were down in the red zone a lot coming away with zero points too many times.

“He can make that throw. He made all sorts of throws today. He’ll learn from it.”

Tolzien benefited from some terrific play out of Nelson and receiver Jarrett Boykin, who had eight catches for 112 yards and continues to impress with his strong hands. Tight end Brandon Bostick caught the only touchdown pass on a short route to the left in which the safety slipped, leaving him an open lane to the end zone for a 22-yard score.

But Boykin also dropped a deep ball that was catchable, Nelson juggled a pass in the end zone that required a replay review to verify that it was incomplete and tight end Andrew Quarless failed to get a key first down after a pass into the flat.

“I feel like I should take responsibility for that,” Quarless said of his play. “I thought I had it. I could have reached for it.”

Quarless said Tolzien was able to run everything in the game plan despite getting only a handful of snaps in practice during the week. He said Tolzien has been watching Rodgers like a hawk since being signed to the practice squad Sept. 3.

“Scott mimics everything with the offense,” Quarless said. “It’s almost like he’s getting reps. He did a good job today. I think we’ll be fine.”

Tolzien misfired on a couple of throws where it appeared he didn’t have his feet set, including one that was intercepted. He also missed a wide-open Nelson across the middle on one occasion.

Nevertheless, McCarthy didn’t even have to be asked about the starter for Sunday’s game at MetLife Stadium. He declared Tolzien the starter in his opening statement, sweeping aside a question about whether it was a reflection of the injury Wallace suffered.

“I’m the head coach,” he said. “I’ve made that decision.”

Part of the reason McCarthy had to feel better about Tolzien than Wallace was his arm strength and willingness to stand tall in the pocket. In his short time as Packers quarterback, Wallace didn’t step up in the pocket enough and struggled with some passes to the sideline.

In addition, the 6-foot-2 Tolzien is smart and withstood not only a limited amount of practice time, but a change in centers. Starter Evan Dietrich-Smith left with a knee injury, forcing right guard T.J. Lang to take over.

“Scott came in and for the most part did a nice job,” Lang said. “He had that attitude. He’s a smart guy. That’s what you like to see out of your quarterback position.”

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