In the Green Bay Packers’ 34-14 victory over Kansas City on Thursday night, Tolzien was impressive yet again. He completed 12-of-18 passes for 139 yards with two touchdowns, no interceptions and a passer rating of 126.9. In four “true” possessions – discarding a first-half drive that started with 35 seconds remaining and a second-half drive that ran out the clock – Tolzien led the offense to two touchdowns and a field goal.
In the four preseason games, Tolzien never completed less than 66.7 percent of his passes; Matt Flynn never completed better than that rate and had just 47.4 percent accuracy for the preseason. Tolzien never averaged less than 7.13 yards per attempt; Flynn averaged 6.11 for the preseason. Tolzien didn’t thrown an interception in any of the games.
Now, he’ll wait for the team to decide whether it will keep two or three quarterbacks, and whether he’ll be No. 2 or No. 3 on the depth chart. The final cuts are due at 3 p.m. Central on Saturday.
“It’s out of my control,” Tolzien said. “The things I can focus on are my preparation and my performance. I really like our quarterback room and our coaches and everything like that. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I guess you can only control what you can control. You can’t worry about that.”
Tolzien has come a long way in the past 12 months. He spent last year’s training camp with San Francisco, was released on the final cutdown and joined Green Bay’s practice squad. Two months later, having barely run any of the Packers’ playbook on the practice field, he was thrust into the Philadelphia game. The next week, he threw for 339 yards against the Giants. The next week, he was benched in the third quarter against Minnesota and remained there for the rest of the season.
Tolzien’s strengths are undeniable. Compared to Flynn, Tolzien has a better arm and better legs. That was evident in deep passes to Jeff Janis. Tolzien’s first touchdown pass was a pinpoint-accurate 33-yard score in the second quarter. On the other hand, Flynn had Janis break open on play action in the third quarter; Flynn underthrew Janis by a considerable margin, though it worked out with a 39-yard pass interference penalty.
Moreover, Tolzien is more than just physical skills. He is a gym rat who loves the game and has an unquenchable desire to improve. That improvement was evident in the preseason. In about two-and-a-half regular-season games last year, Tolzien threw one touchdown pass and five interceptions. This summer, he’s thrown three touchdown passes and no interceptions.
“It's been great to have a full offseason to kind of learn everything from the ground up, the 101 version of everything,” Tolzien said. “Last year, you're really just pressing to learn that week's game plan and you might be missing some of the main basics of certain plays. It's a great coaching staff here and Aaron (Rodgers is) the best in the game and Matt’s had so many years in this offense, it's been invaluable learning from everybody every day in that room.”
If Tolzien felt pressure from Flynn’s strong performance, it didn’t show. Flynn started the game with a touchdown and field goal on his opening possessions. Tolzien did the same. When Flynn marched the Packers to a touchdown in the third quarter, Tolzien answered with a touchdown to start the fourth quarter. On third-and-16, he rifled a pass over the middle to Jake Stoneburner for a first down. On third-and-4 from the 6, he threw a bullet to Myles White between two defenders for the touchdown. The end-of-game drive started with 6:04 remaining. Tolzien kept the chains and the clock moving with a third-and-5 completion to Alex Gillett, a 9-yard scramble and a 14-yard completion to Gillett.
Coach Mike McCarthy considers Tolzien an ascending talent. While Tolzien has practice squad eligibility remaining, it seems unlikely that he’d clear waivers. At this point, it would be a surprise for the Packers to part ways with a quarterback who could be Rodgers’ long-term backup – and save the Packers a future draft pick acquiring that future No. 2, in the process.
“I know I feel a lot more comfortable now than I did last year,” he said, “but it's still a work in progress.”
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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com, and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org, or leave him a question in Packer Report’s subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/PackerReport.