There might not be a better test of NFL quarterback’s mental and physical skills than the two-minute drill.
High tempo. Clear communication. Execution. Clock management.
It is exactly the type of situation that might make a Division III college quarterback playing in his first NFL game look silly. Except Joe Callahan.
The Green Bay Packers’ underdog quarterback, undrafted out of Wesley College, made his mark Friday night at the end of the first half at Lambeau Field. Leading a 12-play, 80-yard drive in 2:27, Callahan threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to running back John Crockett with just 7 seconds remaining. The Packers took the lead into halftime and went on to win 17-11 over the Cleveland Browns in the preseason opener.
“I think he did an awesome job (in that situation),” said tight end Justin Perillo, who caught a game-high five passes for 52 yards. “He showed some confidence tonight and did a heck of a job.”
Callahan actually had to wait an extra week to make his debut. He was slated to start the Hall of Fame game last Sunday in Canton against the Indianapolis Colts until poor field conditions necessitated a cancellation of the game. As a result, the Packers delayed their quarterback plan for the opener. Aaron Rodgers and Brett Hundley sat, giving Callahan the nod against the Browns.
After a slow start – in which he converted just one first down in five third-down dropbacks – Callahan settled in. The Packers went away from their early power formations on offense and gave Callahan a chance to sling it on the last two drives of the first half. He showed his knowledge of the offense by making use of the Packers’ run-solution plays and also used his feet nimbly to maneuver in the pocket when necessary. “Stay calm” and “Trust your feet” were the last bits of advice Callahan got from Rodgers before taking the field.
Perhaps his most impressive play of the night came on the touchdown drive, when he used a quick throw to tight end Kennard Backman for an 18-yard gain down to the 5-yard line. Recognizing the Browns’ coverage, he took advantage.
“That’s something that’s built into that play,” said Callahan. “You just kind of read how the defense is set up. It’s almost like a quick reaction throw. So, luckily the defense did what we wanted to there.”
Callahan finished with a passer rating of 97.0 for the game (16-of-23, 124 yards, one touchdown). He was 8-of-10 on the touchdown drive.
“I was just concentrating on the plays coming in, making sure I was communicating with everybody on the field, sticking to my progressions and making good decisions and not forcing any balls,” said Callahan.
Fellow undrafted quarterback Marquise Williams took over for Callahan in the second half and finished just 6-of-14 for 55 yards, throwing an interception at the Browns’ 1-yard line.
“I thought both quarterbacks did an excellent job, Joe, in particular,” said coach Mike McCarthy. “I think you look at their arrival, new language, new footwork, new everything and where they were in April and where they are today. I was very pleased with the way Joe, number one, managed the game, used the huddle, extended the plays with his feet, and played smart with the football. Two-minute drive, I don’t care who you are, what year you’re in, I thought he did an excellent job getting the touchdown there before the half.”