The Green Bay Packers had a taste of what life after Aaron Rodgers might be like in Week 9’s loss to the Kansas City Chiefs and it didn’t go particularly well. Second-year quarterback Jordan Love made the first start of his career after being picked 26th overall in the 2020 NFL Draft, and the former Utah State standout didn’t look remotely close to being a quarterback who’s capable of replacing a Hall of Famer anytime soon. He led the Packers to a 13-7 defeat.
Sure, Love had some quality moments, like the fourth-quarter touchdown pass to Allen Lazard that brought the Packers within one score with less than five minutes remaining in the game. But those plays were few and far between—and while it isn’t necessarily surprising that a first-time starter struggled, more success was expected from Love against what’s arguably the NFL’s worst all-around defense.
Love was a mixed bag of a handful of good throws, a handful of lucky completions, and a forgettable bundle of bad passes.
Love’s insertion into the starting lineup on Sunday wasn’t part of a bigger plan and it wasn’t scripted by the coaching staff. Instead, it was the result of Rodgers’ positive COVID-19 test and the chaos that ensued. Maybe the chaos is part of why Love looked so pedestrian. But that’s a hollow excuse for a player who’s had the rare benefit by current NFL standards to sit behind an All-Pro and learn the position for his entire rookie year. Love didn’t perform like a player who successfully completed that football equivalent of a Masters program. He looked more like a dude who needs to repeat the course.
Love’s final stat line—19-of-34 for 190 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT—reads like a pretty average day at the office and, arguably, a good outing for a player in his situation. But it wasn’t. Love’s stats are Exhibit A for how the box score can lie to you. His passes sailed high and wide, his processing was slow, and for most of the game, he appeared rattled and confused.
The Packers experienced something on Sunday that they haven’t dealt with since the moment Brett Favre took over as the starting quarterback way back in 1992. Yes, it’s been nearly three decades since Green Bay didn’t have a quarterback who can put the team on his shoulders and win a game. Had Rodgers played against the Chiefs, it’s a near-certainty they would’ve won. The Packers held Patrick Mahomes to just 13 points; losing to Kansas City with that kind of defensive effort is a football sin.
Love needed to have a big performance in his first start to give the Packers confidence in their after-Rodgers plan. There’s a very good chance Rodgers will force his way out of Green Bay next offseason, and while it’s possible the Packers will make an effort to keep him, Love can make the decision to let No. 12 leave much easier if he, ya know, plays well. He didn’t in Week 9, and he may not get another chance to show his skills in 2021.
Rodgers, as an unvaccinated player, isn’t eligible to return until Nov. 13. He should be back in time for the Packers’ Nov. 14 game against the Seattle Seahawks but maybe, just maybe, Love will get another chance to make a first impression. But as the old adage goes, you never really get that second chance, right?
Love gave Packers fans a chilling reality check against the Chiefs. The incredible ride Green Bay’s enjoyed for the last 30 years is coming to an end, sooner than later. And when that ride finally stalls, it’ll be a player like Love—if not Love himself—who will be expected to perform at the same level as the two greats who preceded him. That rarely, if ever, works out. Just rewatch Love’s Week 9 effort and you’ll see why.
Am I being too harsh on a player after his first start? No, I don’t think so. Again, Love has had more than his fair share of time to prepare for this moment. Unlike Trevor Lawrence, Zach Wilson, Justin Fields, and Mac Jones—all rookie first-rounders who are learning on the job in 2021—Love was cared for like fine china. He’s been groomed since April 2020 by the coaching staff that selected him despite the pick being the final straw that broke Rodgers’ back. And on Sunday, he failed. Sorry, Packers fans. It’s the cold, hard truth that 31 other fan bases have been forced to deal with at one time or another over the last few decades. Your first-round quarterback just doesn’t look good.
So, what happens from here? Did Love do enough to actually flip the quarterback narrative in Green Bay? Is general manager Brian Gutekunst calling all hands on deck to re-evaluate how they’re going to handle Rodgers moving forward?
Yes, it’s only one game, and yes, maybe Love will get better with more on-field reps. But those reps will likely come at the most expensive of costs: letting Rodgers leave Green Bay. And that might be a mistake that could take the next 30 years to fix.