Philadelphia Eagles wide receiver DeSean Jackson hauls in a 55-yard touchdown reception while covered by Green Bay Packers safety Morgan Burnett (42) and cornerback Tramon Williams (38) in the first quarter of Sunday's game against the Philadelphia Eagles at Lambeau Field. / Kyle Bursaw/Press-Gazette Media
The Green Bay Packers at least know who their quarterback will be next week.
Immediately after the Packers’ 27-13 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday at Lambeau Field, coach Mike McCarthy pronounced Scott Tolzien his starter.
McCarthy’s Packers had just played their first full game of the season without starter Aaron Rodgers and experienced how difficult life will be for the next few weeks while one of the NFL’s premier players recovers from a broken collarbone.
They also had scrambled into disaster mode for the second straight game because Seneca Wallace, just like Rodgers last week, was unable to return from an injury after the team’s first offensive series. In Wallace’s case, it was a pulled groin.
That left Tolzien to play for the first time in his three years since entering the NFL. The result was a second straight home defeat, though McCarthy saw enough that he finished his opening statement to reporters by declaring Tolzien the starter for next Sunday’s game at the New York Giants. Wallace’s health didn’t appear to play into the equation one way or the other.
“I’m the head coach,” McCarthy said. “I’ve made that decision.”
The Packers clearly are on their heels after dropping to 5-4 Sunday. They’re tied with Chicago for second in the NFC North Division behind 6-3 Detroit and one of eight NFC teams with a 5-4 record or better.
Then there’s their growing injury list. They lost several more players to injuries of unrevealed severity: center Evan Dietrich-Smith (knee), cornerback Casey Hayward (hamstring), right guard Don Barclay (knee) and outside linebacker Nick Perry (foot).
Also, they saw their secondary gashed for critical big plays for the second straight week. So now they’re trying desperately to not let Rodgers’ absence knock them out of the playoff race if he has to miss four or five games. His play was the biggest reason they’d weathered the injury storm through the first seven games.
“It’s a completely different team without Aaron,” said Bill Davis, the Eagles’ defensive coordinator. “With Aaron, they’re three wides every down, and they’re run-pass ‘check with me’ (at the line of scrimmage). He throws it all over the field, and you leave a guy just a little bit open and he rips it.”
That surely would have changed with Wallace, as it did with Tolzien, though all things considered, he performed credibly. Tolzien had signed to the Packers’ practice squad only at the start of the regular season, after the San Francisco 49ers released him on the cutdown to 53. He’d been with the 49ers the last two seasons but never had taken a snap in a game until Sunday.
Tolzien played better than the veteran Wallace did in Rodgers’ stead last week against Chicago even though he had practiced even less in the team’s offense.
Tolzien threw for 280 of the Packers’ 396 yards in total offense and had only two drives end in punts, but he put up only 13 points. His relatively low passer rating (70.5) reflected his two major errors, both interceptions, which played a big role in the outcome: One in the end zone that took points off the board in the first half, and a forced throw into a crowd that set up an Eagles field goal in the second half.
McCarthy seemed taken by Tolzien’s poise and intelligence, though whether the coach will be able to translate that into a win or two in the next few weeks is another matter.
“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 (at San Diego and San Francisco).
“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.”
On the first interception, the Packers were trailing only 7-0 and in great scoring position (third down from the Eagles’ 5). Tolzien had 6-foot-3 Jordy Nelson matched one-on-one against 5-10 cornerback Brandon Boykin on a corner-fade pattern. But the quarterback threw a line drive rather than a jump ball, and Boykin intercepted.
“We had an awesome opportunity there and got a good look for the play we were running,” Tolzien said. “Really an ideal look, and looking back on that throw I should have probably thrown it more back pylon. I could have thrown a better ball. Well, could have? Should have.”
With Rodgers out, the Eagles’ defense crowded the line of scrimmage and held halfbacks Eddie Lacy and James Starks to a combined 78 yards on 28 carries (2.8-yard average). Lacy pounded out 17 yards on his first two runs, than had only 56 yards on his final 22 carries.
Tolzien made a few good throws outside the pocket and also had a couple bad misfires on incompletions on his way to a 24-for-39 passing day.
“We didn’t just line up in one personnel group,” McCarthy said. “We went out there to win the game, so he got us in and out of personnel groups, managed the runs. They challenged him, challenged the box. They did a good job against our run game in the second half, and Scott was able to take advantage of that. Like I said, you take away the interception (in the end zone), I don’t know if the young man could’ve played much better.”
The Packers’ defense also failed to compensate for Rodgers’ absence against the 5-5 Eagles and second-year quarterback Nick Foles. The Packers’ pass rush, with outside linebacker Clay Matthews playing for the first time after a four-game absence and wearing a padded club to protect his broken right thumb, didn’t change the game. Though Foles was sacked three times, more often than not he had plenty of time to throw while putting up a 149.3 rating that included an average of 19 yards per reception and no interceptions.
And the Packers’ secondary gave up three long touchdowns that were the difference in the game.
On the first, cornerback Tramon Williams collided with safety Morgan Burnett as both went for an underthrown ball to DeSean Jackson, who had run by them. Jackson caught the carom and walked the final 10 yards into the end zone for a 55-yard touchdown and the game’s first score.
On the second, cornerback Davon House and safety M.D. Jennings had double coverage on receiver Riley Cooper’s deep post route early in the third quarter. But Jennings allowed Cooper to get behind him, and neither he nor House in catch-up mode could locate the badly underthrown pass, which allowed Cooper to undercut them for a 45-yard touchdown catch.
And on the third, Burnett bit hard on Cooper’s inside fake, then stumbled as Cooper broke outside for an easy 32-yard touchdown that put the Eagles up 27-10 with 10 seconds left in the third quarter.
“We’ve given up some plays,” Williams said of the secondary. “If you give up catches that are earned, we can live with that. But if it’s just breakdowns in the defense, that’s things we can’t live with. I felt last game (Chicago) made some earned catches. This game, we should have made some plays on some balls.”