Who needs Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley when you’ve got Joe Callahan and Marquise Williams?
With the two-time MVP Rodgers getting the night off and Hundley out with an injured ankle, the Green Bay Packers rode their undrafted rookie quarterbacks to a 17-11 victory over the Cleveland Browns in both teams’ preseason opener on Friday night at Lambeau Field.
Though just a meaningless preseason game in the grand scheme of things, the accomplishment was noteworthy in one regard. While Callahan and Williams obviously had zero NFL starts, the Browns’ top three quarterbacks had a combined 102 career starts – Robert Griffin’s 35, Josh McCown’s 57 and Austin Davis’ 10.
The Packers led 10-5 at halftime on the strength of a late touchdown drive orchestrated by Callahan, who at this time last year was getting ready for Division III Wesley’s season-opening game against Frostburg State. The drive started with a 17-yard run by undrafted rookie Brandon Burks and was kept moving by third-down completions of 12 yards to receiver Jared Abbrederis and 15 yards to tight end Justin Perillo. An 18-yard catch-and-run by tight end Kennard Backman set up Callahan’s 2-yard touchdown to running back John Crockett on third-and-goal with 7 seconds remaining.
“Joe did a lot of really good things,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said in halftime quotes distributed by the team. “He managed the run game. We had some QB movement that you would like a little more out of, but where you really see the quarterback’s mental [game] is in the two-minute drill. I thought he was excellent.”
Cleveland opened the game with a 49-yard completion from Griffin to receiver Terrelle Pryor against Damarious Randall. A few plays later, Pryor was intercepted at the goal line by safety Micah Hyde. The Browns’ loss turned out to be the Browns’ gain, when defensive lineman Jamie Meder and linebacker Tank Carder dropped running back James Starks in the end zone. The Browns, however, fumbled away the free kick, with safety Chris Banjo recovering Raheem Mostert’s muffed catch. The Packers failed to move the ball but Mason Crosby drilled a 54-yard field goal to give Green Bay a 3-2 lead.
Midway through the second quarter, hit tight end Connor Hamlett for an apparent 25-yard touchdown on third-and-10. However, McCown was past the line of scrimmage when he threw the ball, so the Browns had to settle for a 46-yard field goal by Patrick Murray.
Eddie Lacy carried four times for 24 yards on the opening possession. According to our unofficial stats, 18 yards came after contact.
“It’s important to run the football, as we know, but this is the time of year where you have to get the reps,” McCarthy said. “We want to come out and run the football and really have it be a focus throughout the preseason. It's different on the other side of the ball. You have to stop the run.”
Cleveland pulled within 13-11 late in the third quarter, thanks to its special teams. Browns punter Andy Lee pinned Green Bay at its 1 and the Packers’ offense moved the ball about a foot on three plays. Mostert eluded Carl Bradford on a 23-yard return, with 10 yards tacked on on Demetri Goodson’s late hit. Cleveland scored on its first play, a 10-yard touchdown pass from Cody Kessler to Rashard Higgins. The two-point play failed.
Green Bay took a 15-11 lead with 9:56 to go. This time, the Packers’ loss was the Packers’ gain. Williams’ back-shoulder pass to Geronimo Allison was intercepted at the 1. On the Browns’ first play, former Packers running back Rajion Neal failed to block undrafted rookie linebacker Reggie Gilbert, who chased Kessler out of the end zone for a safety.
The Packers clinched the victory when Christian Ringo sacked Kessler for yet another safety, making it 17-11 with 2:06 to play.
Callahan finished 16-of-23 for 124 yards and one touchdown. Williams went 6-of-14 for 55 yards and one interception and added 29 rushing yards.
Bill Huber is publisher of 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 www.twitter.com/PackerReport.