GREEN BAY, Wis. — Slowly but surely, Jordan Love is showing the Packers that they might just have their guy.
Has much of this season been a struggle for the first-year starting quarterback and those around him, both on the field and on the sideline? Yes. Are there still things to clean up? Without a doubt.
But you’re starting to see Love make more franchise quarterback-type throws on a consistent basis than over any other stretch through the first half of the season. There were a couple instances of him doing so in a narrow loss to the Steelers last Sunday and a couple more in Sunday’s 23-20 win over the Chargers at Lambeau Field that make you think the 25-year-old is starting to turn a corner. The Packers, now 4-6, certainly need him to if they have any prayer of making a miraculous late-season playoff push.
In Sunday’s fourth-quarter comeback win over the Chargers, Love perfectly floated a ball while on his heels to the back-left corner of the end zone for wide receiver Christian Watson in a tight window, giving the Packers a lead in the third quarter. Then another dime to wideout Romeo Doubs on a slot fade for what would be the game-winning touchdown late in the fourth down the left side (Love actually said he slightly underthrew the ball, but considering how bad some of his underthrows have been, this one seemed rather pristine). Those are the types of throws the Packers need Love to make. Stats don’t always verify the eye test, but Love’s line of 27-for-40, 322 yards and two touchdowns with no interceptions certainly backed up what looked on the surface to be one of his best games of the season.
“I think he’s just proving all of us right,” wide receiver Christian Watson said. “We’ve seen what he’s capable of doing since the moment he got the starting job. Obviously, we knew that there was gonna be some adversity that we were gonna face and whatnot, but he just keeps on chugging along and I think he has a bright future.”
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— Green Bay Packers (@packers) November 19, 2023
The Packers’ own hype of Love only meant so much once he and the offense started struggling. Cornerback Jaire Alexander crashed one of Love’s interviews before the season to proclaim him the best quarterback in the league. Outside linebacker Rashan Gary stood beside Love after a season-opening win over the Bears, screaming in support of his quarterback, before he conducted an on-field interview with Fox’s Erin Andrews. Teammates left and right praised Love for how he carried himself and what he was capable of, but none of that mattered when the Packers kept losing and Love kept playing mediocre football, perhaps dragged down by an underwhelming supporting cast of players and coaches.
After the first two weeks, with six touchdown passes and no interceptions to Love’s name, it seemed as if he was en route to a mid-season contract extension. After the next six games, it seemed as if the Packers were closer to drafting his replacement with a premium pick than inking him to a new deal, even if head coach Matt LaFleur and general manager Brian Gutekunst deflected some blame to those around Love while also wanting more from their quarterback. But team president Mark Murphy did say before the season that it would take about the first half of the year for the offense to figure things out, and sure enough he was right. After the last two games, one win and one loss in which Love hasn’t been perfect but has shown the most promise since the first two weeks, the offense has moved the ball down the field more efficiently. On Sunday, the Packers finally scored more than 20 points for the first time since Week 2.
Love’s 322 passing yards were not only a career high, but also the most for a Packers quarterback since Aaron Rodgers’ 341 in a 45-30 win over the Bears on Dec. 12, 2021.
“J-Love is that guy,” tight end Tucker Kraft said. “I just compared him to Doc Holliday from Tombstone — cool hand, he’s ready to strike. He’s going to put that ball anywhere he wants.”
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Love still has accuracy issues that need fixing. He threw high and left of wide receiver Dontayvion Wicks on what seemed like a relatively simple second-and-7 throw late in the first half. He underthrew another deep ball to Doubs and this time there was no bailout defensive pass interference. On bombs downfield, Love has consistently underwhelming this season. There’s no arguing that needs to change. On what looked like a wheel route by tight end Luke Musgrave early in the fourth quarter after Musgrave released from his block, Love lofted the ball 23 yards downfield when 21 or 22 might’ve resulted in an 83-yard touchdown with the Packers leading by three. That’s not the first time this season Love has missed his wide-open rookie tight end for what should’ve been six points. Maybe we here in Green Bay expect perfection after watching Rodgers, but those inside the building would tell you Love needs to hit those throws, too.
There were smaller things like a bobbled snap that cost the Packers six yards and an intentional grounding that cost them 10 on what was already going to be a punt from deep in their own territory, so this is not to say that Love has established himself as Green Bay’s next long-term quarterback because he still has plenty to fix. But what we’ve watched the last two weeks is different than what we saw for the majority of the six prior — an ability to make some big-time throws more consistently, march the team downfield and finally, on Sunday, finish a close game with his team on the winning end.
Gary even interrupted a question to him about Love to get a message across.
“Stop playing with that man,” he said, before adding, “Performances like that just show people why he’s our starting quarterback. I love how he blocked the outside noise and how he leads this team day in and day out and that’s Monday through Sunday, so man, Jordan, you watching this, keep doing you, man.”
Watson called Love’s touchdown throw to him “money.” With outside linebacker Tuli Tuipulotu barreling down on Love from the strong side after beating right tackle Zach Tom, Love threw off-balance with three defenders around Watson and little room with which to work. Right on the money, as Watson ran the crosser from the opposite slot to perfection.
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— Green Bay Packers (@packers) November 19, 2023
Love said the play wasn’t in the game plan, that it was actually drawn up on the sideline based on a previous defensive look from the Chargers.
“I’ve got to give (tight ends coach) John Dunn all the credit in the world on that,” LaFleur said. “There was a play earlier on that drive and you always look at the pictures, and we saw something there and he suggested a play and then we called it and hit the coverage and those guys went out there and executed it. It was a great job by Christian just hauling ass across the field and Jordan made a good throw, but certainly the credit goes to John Dunn in that situation.”
“We had kind of seen how they were playing in the red zone before that, so coach just dialed it up, knew that would work,” Watson said. “The safety wasn’t getting out of there quick enough and we knew we could utilize my speed to just get across and just get into that open hole, so yeah, that was perfect.”
On Love’s second touchdown pass, the high-point catch from Doubs and subsequent rip-away to ensure cornerback Michael Davis couldn’t knock the ball loose was probably even better than the throw.
“That was insane,” Watson said. “The throw, the catch, everything.”
“We went quick and the defense, they were kind of scrambling to get set and figure out who was over there,” Love said. “I think they only had one DB in there and they were running somebody over late. I just looked over there and saw they were all messed up and it was almost like a pick happened between the two DBs who were out there. Rome was able to get on top and just put it out there. It was a little underthrown and he just did a good job of going back to the ball and aggressive hands and snagging it for a tud, so it was nice.”
Even if the ball was barely underthrown, and even if Love wasn’t immaculate throughout the game, the difference on Sunday was he and those around him finished the job. Love failed to do so in Atlanta in a Week 2 loss. He failed again in Las Vegas, then again in Denver and Pittsburgh. Those three losses came by a combined 10 points and Love threw a combined four interceptions on potential go-ahead drives in those three fourth quarters, including two against the Steelers last Sunday.
Against the Chargers, he made the play, with the help of Doubs, that he so rarely had this season late in games. And that’s worth something, especially as the Packers have starved for glimpses that Love is their guy. On Sunday, he gave them just that and then some.
“It was huge,” LaFleur said of his quarterback delivering a game-winning drive. “He showed great poise. I think he showed that all game long.”
(Photo: Patrick McDermott / Getty Images)
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