Expert Analysis


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Jordan Love's Stunning In-season Growth Puts Packers on Brink of Playoffs

Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love
Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love (10) celebrates his touchdown run against the Minnesota Vikings on New Year's Eve. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

In his first year as the Green Bay Packers' starting QB Jordan Love started inconsistently, leading his team to a 3-6 record. Since then, it’s been a dramatic turnaround with five wins in the last seven games and a red-hot Love is leading the way. He has 16 TD passes and only one interception during that stretch.

Heading into Sunday’s regular-season finale at Lambeau Field against the Chicago Bears, the Packers can claim a wild-card spot with a victory. They would enter the playoffs as a team on the rise.

Better Luck Next Year

Back in mid-November, the prevailing opinion among media and Packers Nation was the NFL’s youngest team, and its quarterback was destined for a losing season. It was expected to be a transition year after trading Aaron Rodgers, who spent 15 seasons as the Packers' starter.

Green Bay lost soundly by two touchdowns in Week 4 and Week 8 against two division rivals — the Detroit Lions and the Minnesota Vikings. Veteran QBs Jared Goff and Kirk Cousins outplayed Love in both games.

“It’s part of the learning process and better luck next year” was what Love heard from outsiders. But coach Matt LaFleur delivered a different message: Keep working hard.

That message extended to Love’s supporting cast, which included two fine running backs — Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon, a receiving corps of all first- and second-year players and an offensive line in flux.

“It’s taken a lot of hard work,” LaFleur said in a press conference. “We’ve evolved as an offense. There’s a learning curve any time you’ve got a bunch of new players. I’m super happy for Jordan because he’s put in a ton of work to get to this point.” 

Slaying Lions Became Turning Point

The biggest turning point came on Thanksgiving Day in Detroit. Love threw three TD passes with no turnovers, and the Packers defense forced three Goff fumbles in a 29-22 upset.

That confidence-building victory was followed by a huge 27-19 Sunday night home win against the defending champion Kansas City Chiefs. In that game, Love again threw three TD passes with no turnovers. 

The talk after the game centered on a controversial non-call on an obvious pass interference (against ex-Packer Marquez Valdes-Scantling). More pertinent from the Packers’ standpoint was Love had outperformed Patrick Mahomes in prime time. Love had led the team back into the playoff race at 6-6 with its third straight win.

Tough losses to the New York Giants and Tampa Bay Buccaneers followed. Again, the Packers were written off at 6-8. But the team survived a scare with a three-point win in Carolina. 

That led to a virtual elimination game in Minnesota on New Year’s Eve, Love and the Packers played their most complete game of the season, dominating the Vikings 33-10 in a game they led 30-3 in the third quarter.

Love is the NFC Offensive Player of the Week after throwing for 256 yards and three TDs with no interceptions. He added a two-yard rushing TD, which showed his athleticism and toughness by outrunning the Vikings' defenders before crashing into the end zone.

Jordan Love's Tale of Two Seasons
GamesRecordAtt.-Comp. (%)Yards (YPG)TD-INT
1-93-6176-300 (58.7%)2,009 (223.2)14-10
10-165-2169-247 (68.4%)1,834 (262)16-1

Performances vs. Vikings Illustrate Love's Growth

Love looked more poised and confident in Sunday’s rematch with the Vikings compared to the October meeting. In October, he was unsure of where Vikings defense coordinator Brian Flores was sending the pressure from. Love took four sacks, threw one interception and Green Bay scored just 10 points in that loss.

Love talked postgame about the difference from the previous Vikings matchup. 

“I’ve grown in a lot of ways,” he said. “Trying to find ways to get better and understanding how I need to attack these guys after the first game. Drawing on little mistakes and trusting everyone around me.”

LaFleur was heavy in his postgame praise of his quarterback.

 “I can’t say enough great things about Jordan Love,” he said. “Just his ability to hang in there vs. tough looks, drift away from pressure, allowing his guys to go make plays. 

“I think he’s playing at an incredibly high level. The sky’s the limit. He’s shown a glimpse of what he can ultimately be. He’s been more consistent as the season has progressed and with a young group around him who have performed at a higher level.”

During this late-season run, Love is the hottest quarterback in the league. He has a passer rating higher than 108 in six of the past seven games.

It’s a stunning turnaround for the 2020 first-round pick after a stretch of seven games (from Sept. 24-Nov. 12) in which Love threw 10 interceptions as the Packers lost five of seven.

Love ranks third in TD passes (30) and 10th in passer rating (93.8) among quarterbacks with at least nine starts. He’s getting the ball out quicker, and his offensive line has improved as it’s overcome the loss of Pro Bowl tackle David Bakhtiari.

Love has taken only 29 sacks (third-fewest), including taking zero against the Vikings defense that had four in the Week 8 meeting.

'I think he's playing at an incredible level. The sky's the limit. He's shown a glimpse of what he can ultimately be.'

Packers coach Matt LaFleur

Supporting Cast Improves With Love

Love has been missing his expected No. 1 receiver, Christian Watson (hamstring), for the past four weeks. But rookie second-rounder Jayden Reed came on with 12 catches for 141 yards and three TDs in his last two games. Reed leads the team with 60 catches, 681 yards and 10 total TDs.

Jones has had two consecutive excellent games. He had 127 rushing yards at Carolina and 120 yards against Minnesota. The running game’s effectiveness has set up play-action passing for Love.

An amazing 98 percent of the Packers’ receiving production at wide receiver and tight end has come from first- or second-year players. That is the most in NFL history.

It’s also a tribute to good drafting and free agent pickups by GM Brian Gutekunst. It's also excellent development by the coaching staff, who certainly deserve a lot of credit for Love’s improvement. 

Gutekunst also made the wise decision to trade Rodgers to the Jets last April with Love entering his fourth season. It's the same move Gutekunst’s predecessor, Ted Thompson, did in 2008 when he traded Favre to the Jets, opening the door for Rodgers.  

As the offense emerged, the Green Bay defense came off one of its best games with 211 yards allowed, four sacks and two takeaways against the Vikings. The quarterback edge for the Packers was obvious.

Love played great, and the Cousins-less Vikings struggled with rookie Jaren Hall playing poorly in the first half, and Nick Mullens was unimpressive in the second half.

Opportunity to Change the Narrative

The Packers beat the Bears in Chicago 38-20 on opening day. Love knows the Packers blew a similar Week 18 opportunity to make the playoffs last season when they lost at home to Detroit. 

If they sweep a hot Bears team, which has four wins in its last five games, the Packers will enter the playoffs as dangerous road underdogs. That puts the pressure clearly on their wild-card round opponent (the Cowboys, Eagles, or Lions). It’s a great place to be for a team considered by most to be at least a year away from playoff contention.

That was back when the Packers quarterback’s development, along with that of his supporting cast, was a work in progress.

“It hasn’t been easy,” Love said. “There’s been a lot of highs and lows and adversity. We had a lot of young guys but you could see how many playmakers we had and how deep our skill positions were. Everybody continued to work hard and find ways to get better. We’re controlling our destiny now so I’m excited to go handle business this week.”

Green Bay Packers quarterback Jordan Love

Playoff Berth Would Exceed Favre, Rodgers Debuts

Love waited until his fourth year to succeed Rodgers, who also sat for three years behind Favre. In his first season as the starter, Rodgers went 6-10 before. He took off in Year 2 when he led the Packers to the playoffs. Then, he won the Super Bowl in his third year.

Favre started in his second season, made the playoffs in Year 3 and won the Super Bowl in his fifth season as Packers starter.

With a win Sunday, Love will have accomplished what his predecessors couldn't in their first season as the Packers starting quarterback — lead the team to the playoffs.

The Packers and their passionate fan base hope this is the start of another 15-plus year run for a championship and future Hall of Fame quarterback in Titletown.