GREEN BAY, Wis. — It didn’t take Green Bay Packers coach Mike McCarthy long after Sunday’s loss to pick a new starting quarterback for next week’s game.
“I’ll tell you right now, Scott Tolzien will start against the New York Giants, so we’ll answer that question right here,” McCarthy said at his postgame press conference.
The day started with Seneca Wallace as the Packers’ starter against the Philadelphia Eagles. But, like Aaron Rodgers six days earlier, Wallace was injured on Green Bay’s opening drive.
Wallace suffered a groin injury, and while his return was announced as questionable, McCarthy never put him back in.
That gave a chance for Tolzien, who was on Green Bay’s practice squad one week ago and was elevated to the active roster this week due to Rodgers’ broken collarbone.
Tolzien completed 24-of-39 passes for 280 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions, resulting in a 70.5 passer rating — which is better than what Wallace did in relief of Rodgers on Monday night against the Chicago Bears.
“I thought Scott did a hell of a job,” McCarthy said. “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. He has worked diligently on our language, transferring plays he’s had in the past into how we do things, and for the most part he was seamless in the huddle.
“I thought his game management, especially for the amount of preparation he had going into this game, was outstanding.”
Tolzien, who’s about as even-keeled as any football player can be, didn’t seem overwhelmed whatsoever by the high-pressure circumstances.
“When he came into the huddle that first drive, he was looking around and telling everybody he was going to be all right,” offensive lineman T.J. Lang said.
Even as the Packers’ third-string quarterback, Tolzien could tell that his teammates bought into him as the unofficial leader of the offense.
“I really appreciate the guys around me that help that confidence — from Aaron and Seneca to the coaches to guys just rolling with the punches during the game today,” Tolzien said. “You know, third-stringer’s in and I just really appreciate the way they got behind me and helped me out.”
While McCarthy announced to reporters that Tolzien is Green Bay’s starter next week, he didn’t share that with information with the players in the locker room.
“That’s the first I’ve heard of it,” Lang said.
Tolzien was still adjusting to his new role this week as the No. 2 quarterback. His promotion to the active roster moved him from the auxiliary portion of the locker room — where practice-squad players are relatively hidden away — to a prime location next to Rodgers.
But that adjustment wasn’t nearly as monumental as when Tolzien realized that he was going to have to speak with reporters after the game at the podium in the media auditorium. Seconds before walking in, Tolzien was told that McCarthy had declared him the starter. The 26-year-old former Wisconsin Badgers quarterback then took a few steps into the room, paused and looked around before assuming his place in front of the microphones.
“It’s been a little bit different,” Tolzien said with a straight face when asked about the major changes in his life over the past six days.
That answer summarizes well how Tolzien approaches his job as an NFL quarterback. It’s fair to assume he’s excited, but he’ll never give that impression through his tone or his words.
“I think that’s why it’s not just a cliche when someone says, ‘Prepare every week like you’re the starter,'” Tolzien said. “You’ve got to take that to heart and put it on your own shoulders to make sure you’re doing that. That way, when you do get moved up into an opportunity, that it’s not a surprise to you. You feel like you’ve been doing your homework. The best way to approach a game, you’ve got to be prepared. First and foremost, you’ve got to put that time in and that’s where it all starts.”
Tolzien has been preparing like the starter, and he showed it in his steady — though not spectacular — performance. The one significant mistake from Tolzien was a second-quarter interception in the end zone that Eagles cornerback Brandon Boykin picked off and returned 76 yards.
“You take away the interception, I don’t know if the young man could’ve played much better,” McCarthy said.
Tolzien is from Rolling Meadows, Ill. and grew up a Packers fan — despite the rest of his immediate family cheering for the Bears. But with only a three-hour drive separating his hometown from Lambeau Field, Tolzien’s dad, aunt, uncle and godfather were in attendance for what turned out to be his NFL debut.
But, in typical Tolzien fashion, he didn’t want to make the situation about him.
“I think really you try to just minimize that,” he said. “I think the priority is our locker room. We’re all competitors and we’re not here to lose. The goal is to win games and we didn’t get that done today. Like I said, we look ourselves in the mirror and you get better. That’s the focus.”
McCarthy is confident that Tolzien will get better and that the former undrafted quarterback can lead Green Bay — which has now lost two games in a row — to a win next week.
“I’m the head coach,” McCarthy said, “and I’ve made that decision.”