Many football pundits at some point this offseason have probably utilized NFL Game Pass to watch the Packers’ Week 12 matchup against the Eagles on Thanksgiving weekend. The watch numbers likely increased after reports about Aaron Rodgers’s meeting with the Jets.
Jordan Love’s time to shine seems to have finally arrived—with the Packers and Jets working on a trade that would send Rodgers to New York—and he already provided a glimpse of his bright future on Sunday Night Football in Philadelphia. The game was one of the few times he got meaningful snaps while being Rodgers’s backup during the first three years of his pro career.
It took longer than expected, but the Packers are now ready to roll with Love, something Green Bay planned for with Rodgers in the midst of his prime. It was messy, complicated and probably worth the headaches because Love’s wild-horse playing style has evolved into a composed stallion ready to guide Green Bay to many winning seasons, the same way Rodgers did and Brett Favre before that.
Love, 24, learned from watching a legendary quarterback, wasn’t rushed on his development, and now his next step is to unleash the tantalizing skill set that made the Packers select him in the first round of the 2020 draft.
While waiting for opportunities, Love had to deal with the drama between Rodgers and the organization, which was centered on the Packers’ drafting Love No. 26 in 2020.
It’s fascinating how similar the Rodgers-Love situation is to the Rodgers-Favre transition. Two quarterbacks who were anointed the next face of the franchise as first-round picks but also having to wait for the future Hall of Famer to go elsewhere.
It’s also striking how similar Love’s skill set is to Rodgers’s when it comes to physical gifts, and that was on full display during 10 snaps against the Eagles.
Many might have missed Love’s late comeback attempt while filling in for Rodgers, who exited with injured ribs. This reporter missed it because he was busy asking Rams coach Sean McVay about accidentally being hit in the jaw by one of his players on the sideline in Kansas City, a few hours before Love surprisingly played against the NFC’s best team.
Love quickly demonstrated poise and command of the offense, and deciphered the Eagles’ defense. He showed signs of how far along he was in his development, and his play reflected the many hours of preparation he logged while being the backup.
But what Love showcased on the final drive of a comeback attempt that fell short is why the Packers drafted him, even though they knew it would hamper their relationship with Rodgers, and why many of Love’s teammates have expressed confidence in him as a starter (read Go Long’s feature on Love for more rave reviews about the Utah State product).
Let’s start with the laser he launched on the right sideline to running back Aaron Jones that was deserving of multiple replays on the All-22 film. Love knew cornerback Darius Slay was relying on safety help and threw the fastball in stride before the coverage arrived. Jones, however, dropped the flawless back-shoulder pass that caused Cris Collinsworth to rave on the TV broadcast.
“You can’t throw it better than that,” Collinsworth said.
Mike Tirico, Collinsworth’s TV partner, followed by sharing what Rodgers said about Love’s fundamentals before the 2022 season.
“He’s cleaned up his fundamentals,” Tirico paraphrased. “He’s become a master of the offense. … He’s light-years ahead of where he was last year.”
Rodgers’s description of Love revealed why Love is ready to start and why he’s capable of keeping Green Bay competitive in this post-Rodgers era. But, again, on that final drive, Love showed he’s more than just capable. He paired arm strength with athleticism to create something out of nothing, you know, the type of off-script magic Rodgers often created the past 15 seasons since taking over for Favre.
Love can certainly develop into one of the best quarterbacks in the league with his polished fundamentals and superior skill set, but the backyard plays and the cerebral wins pre- and post-snap will take time. The only way of improving those skills are by playing.
As an example, Love rifled a 40-yard pass across his chest after being flushed away from the pocket, but he threw the ball a second too soon and didn’t allow wide receiver Christian Watson to break free from his defender in the end zone, the lone incompletion that was Love’s fault that night in Philadelphia. Love went 6-of-9 (with two drops) for 113 yards and one touchdown during the 40–33 loss to the Eagles.
Love will get a better feel for the game as the starter, but right now the Packers don’t need him to be Rodgers. Green Bay coach Matt LaFleur probably just wants a quarterback who will trust his play calls and not audible to different ones, which occurred often during LaFleur’s four years with Rodgers.
LaFleur and Packers GM Brian Gutekunst have just as much to prove as Love does this season. Gutekunst took plenty of backlash for drafting Love and sticking to Ted Thompson’s philosophy of parting with star players a year earlier than a year too late.
Gutekunst was thinking ahead, the same way Thompson did by drafting Rodgers in 2005 with Favre on the roster during his first season as the Packers’ GM. But Gutekunst didn’t learn from Thompson’s mistake of trying to please two franchise quarterbacks at once.
Gutekunst could have traded Rodgers last year or the year before for a boatload of draft picks, but none of that will matter if Love is the real deal.
And Packers fans should be excited based on how much Love has developed the past three seasons. Of course, it’s an uneasy feeling going from one of the greatest quarterbacks to an unproven one. Chargers fans likely had the same feeling when the team split from Philip Rivers, but by training camp most were eager to see Justin Herbert play, and we all know how that has turned out.
As for LaFleur, it’s an opportunity to prove he can be a successful coach without an already established elite quarterback who’s capable of calling his own plays.
LaFleur, however, has already proved he can develop a young quarterback into a starter by what Love flashed during those 10 snaps in Philly. A handful of throws weren’t “wow plays,” but Love was decisive in his progressions and displayed chemistry with Green Bay’s inexperienced receivers. Love had a 63-yard catch-and-run touchdown connection with Watson.
Love had a rough starting debut against the Chiefs in 2021 when Rodgers was sidelined after testing positive for COVID-19, and he will certainly continue making mistakes. But Love will finally get opportunities to learn from his mistakes with the bullets flying.
He’ll also get a chance to match what his 2020 draft mates have done. Joe Burrow, Tua Tagovailoa and Herbert were drafted in the top 10 that year, and Jalen Hurts went in the second round, 26 picks after Love.
If Love falls somewhere in the middle of those four quarterbacks on the QB rankings, the Packers would be proved right. But no need to settle when Love has a skill set that compares to Rodgers’s.
It’s Love’s time to shine.