Rookie QB Callahan plays with poise in debut

Michael Cohen
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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Green Bay Packers quarterback Joe Callahan (6) rifles a pass against the Cleveland Browns at Lambeau Field.

GREEN BAY - Before he stepped between the hash marks at Lambeau Field, quarterback Joe Callahan shared his last stadium with five other teams. In addition to football, Drass Field at Scott D. Miller Stadium houses field hockey, men’s and women’s soccer, and men’s and women’s lacrosse.

The standard capacity is 2,500 people, and the Wesley College website mentions the possibility for an expansion that would house 5,000.

So yes, when Callahan entered the huddle Saturday against the Cleveland Browns, with a crowd of 74,261 in the stands, things were a bit different for the former Division III star.

“It was a great experience,” Callahan said. “A little bit bigger than what I’m used to. A few more people than the crowds at Wesley. Tonight was a lot of fun.”

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Five days ago, Callahan was denied the opportunity to start on national television when the Hall of Fame Game between the Packers and Indianapolis Colts was unceremoniously canceled.

But with Aaron Rodgers resting and backup Brett Hundley healing (ankle), it was Callahan who strode into the huddle and began the season after all. He played the first half of what finished as a 17-11 victory for the Packers over the Cleveland Browns, and by all accounts he played fairly well: 16-of-23, 124 yards, one touchdown, no turnovers.

“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,” coach Mike McCarthy said. “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.”

The touchdown drive McCarthy mentioned was the crown jewel of a debut that, predictably, had its warts and nervous moments. There were overthrows to Jared Abbrederis and Ty Montgomery. There was a near-interception when Callahan's pass got tipped over the middle of the field. There was a four-play drive that began with good field position but went backward, ultimately bailed out by a 54-yard field goal from kicker Mason Crosby.

But there was also the touchdown drive — a 12-play, 80-yard odyssey in the waning moments of the second quarter that thrust the Packers in front for good.

“We had a good drive at the end there, the end of the first half," Callahan said. "I think things went well for my first preseason game."

The possession began quickly when tailback Brandon Burks ripped off 17 yards through the middle. His run moved the ball to the Green Bay 37-yard line with 2:12 and two timeouts remaining.

It was at this moment that Callahan impressed his second-string center, Don Barclay, by remaining poised in a stressful situation. Callahan moved the team in chunks, protecting the football and avoiding risky throws. He had completions of five yards, 12 yards and six yards; then 15 yards, five yards and 18 yards.

He guided the offense down to the 2-yard line with 11 seconds remaining when McCarthy called the team's final timeout. One snap later, Callahan lofted a short pass to tailback John Crockett for the drive-ending score.

“He was real composed, real calm, said every play with confidence,” Barclay said. “He went out there and did a good job today. ... He did a great job out there being poised and just calm under pressure, just marched that ball down the field. We didn’t need to hit a home run. We just went play by play.”

As Crockett crossed the goal line, Callahan gave a slight fist pump behind the line of scrimmage. The Packers had taken the lead, and the biggest crowd he’s ever seen began to cheer.

Said Callahan: "I’m loving it here in Green Bay right now. It’s somewhere that I want to stay.”

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