The final weekend of the NFL’s regular season was memorable for two former Cape-Atlantic League stars from Atlantic County.
Brandon Bell, a rookie linebacker from Mays Landing and an Oakcrest High School graduate, appeared in his third game with the Cincinnati Bengals and had an immediate impact.
Quarterback Joe Callahan, a Holy Spirit graduate from Absecon, made his NFL debut as quarterback for the Green Bay Packers.
Bell made seven tackles (five solo, two assists) in the Bengals’ season-closing 31-27 win over the Baltimore Ravens. The Bengals’ victory before 70,507 fans in Baltimore eliminated the Ravens from playoff contention.
Undrafted in 2017 out of Penn State after an outstanding collegiate career, Bell first signed with Cincinnati before training camp but was released late in the preseason. They signed him to their practice squad before the regular season began. On Dec. 15, the Bengals signed Bell to their active roster, and he made his NFL debut two days later in a 34-7 loss to the Minnesota Vikings.
Entering Sunday’s game at Baltimore, he had made three tackles (one solo, two assists) in two NFL games.
Cincinnati finished the season 7-9, Baltimore 9-7.
Callahan has crisscrossed the country the past two seasons trying to build an NFL career.
On Sunday, he went somewhere he’d never been — on the field during a regular-season game.
Callahan made his debut during the Packers’ 35-11 loss to the Lions in Detroit.
With a crowd of 62,501 watching, he entered the game late in the fourth quarter in relief of Brett Hundley, who had fumbled once and been intercepted twice. Wearing No. 6, Callahan completed 5 of 7 passes for 11 yards and a quarterback rating of 74.1. His longest completion was 9 yards, and he had no rushing attempts.
Green Bay finished the season 7-9, and Detroit went 9-7.
Getting into a regular-season NFL game was a hard-earned accomplishment for a 6-foot-1 player from NCAA Division III Wesley College in Delaware.
On Dec. 16, the Packers cut Callahan to make roster room for Aaron Rodgers. The former league MVP had been out since suffering a broken collarbone against Minnesota on Oct. 15. He returned for one game before being put back on injured reserve, ending his season, and the Packers re-signed Callahan on Dec. 19.
While Rodgers was on injured reserve for the first time this season, Callahan, 24, served as the Packers’ No. 2 quarterback behind Hundley for seven games but did not play.
Callahan began this season on Green Bay’s practice squad but was promoted to the active roster Oct. 16.
But this season’s ups and downs are just a snapshot into Callahan’s hectic first two years of professional football. Undrafted out of Wesley after a record-setting career, he signed with the Packers as a free agent in 2016.
He made the Packers’ regular-season roster out of training camp as the No. 3 quarterback but was soon let go. Callahan also spent some time with New Orleans and Cleveland before returning to the Packers late last season and was on their roster for the playoffs.
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Among Bell’s Cincinnati teammates is Clark Harris (Southern Regional), who just completed his ninth season as the Bengals’ long- snapper.
Also, Titans defensive tackle Austin Johnson is the only local player heading to the playoffs. He has 24 tackles and one sack this season.
Tennessee will play at Kansas City at 4:35 p.m. Saturday.