The last time we checked in with Jordan Love, all of Wisconsin was on a sugar high having watched the then 24-year-old dominate the archrival Bears for 245 yards and three scores in a 38–20 opening day rout.
Could it be that lightning was striking for a third time in the same place for the Packers?
Reality has since sunk in. And sometimes, in the NFL, reality sucks.
After going 2–1 in his first three games as Aaron Rodgers’s replacement (with one loss coming by a point and the second win arriving in a frantic comeback over the Saints), Love, and his Packers, leveled off in a major way. From there Green Bay lost five of six, and Love had three multi-interception games in that stretch. His coach, Matt LaFleur, warned of this after his quarterback’s impressive opener: “You can’t let one game lead you, either positively or negatively, into the next game. … I think he understands that.”
Two months later, with Green Bay at 3–6 and needing a spark to stay in shouting distance of playoff contention, Love proved he does understand.
A mid-November win over the slumping Chargers, of course, won’t make the Packers’ season. But after all they, and Love, have been through since September, Sunday’s game at least showcased, both of the team and quarterback, an ability LaFleur knew the young signal-caller would need in the weeks and months to follow.
The Packers beat the Chargers, 23–20. Love threw for 322 yards, two touchdowns and a 108.5 rating without turning the ball over. And in the fourth quarter, he outlasted Justin Herbert.
It’s a good step—and a good sign for Love’s progress.
“I think that’s just life,” Love told me after the game, from Lambeau Field. “There’s always going to be adversity. There’s always going to be highs and lows. It’s just being yourself throughout the whole process, staying true to that and just never losing your confidence throughout the lows. Never get too high with the highs. It’s part of the process. It’s football. We all know that there’s a winner and a loser every game.
“You just got to keep growing as a team, as a player, and keep that confidence high—that’s the main thing.”
Just as Love has needed to keep that in the back of his head through the season, the quarterback had to pull on it during Sunday’s game, too, through some early fits and starts, and right into the game-defining possession for the Packers.
After Khalil Mack beat David Bakhtiari’s replacement at left tackle, Rasheed Walker, like a drum for a strip sack on a second-and-9 with 4:42 left, the Packers were left in third-and-20 from their own 15-yard line. Love took the snap, stood in the pocket and alertly saw something he could exploit down the field, just past the sticks and in the direction of rookie Dontayvion Wicks. And while it didn’t play out as Love imagined, the fact that he saw it at all—something that might not have happened earlier in the year—got the Packers what they needed.
“There was a hole coming open in the middle. I saw Wicks coming open and tried to put it out in front of him,” Love says. “I wasn’t trying to draw a [defensive pass interference], but I saw that the DB was holding him after the ball was released. I’m glad that they called that—a big-time call right there. It’s not like I saw the DPI and threw it into it. I was just reading the play out.”
The flag gave the Packers a fresh set of downs, and, two plays later, Wicks broke a tackle after catching a hitch and raced for a 35-yard gain to the Chargers’ 26-yard line. Two plays after that, Love and another of his young receivers, Romeo Doubs, connected for the game winner from 24 yards out.
And that one came, again, with Love seeing what he needed to and giving his receiver a chance.
“We went quick,” Love says. “The defense was communicating, trying to figure out who was going where. They were a little messed up, didn’t exactly know what they were doing. Romeo was able to get past the DB. I think they ran into each other. I was able to see that and just put it out there for him. He made a great job going up and snagging the ball out of the air. Great job by him.”
The point, of course, in explaining these two plays is simply to show that the more Love sees game speed, the better he’ll get at managing these situations. And all that takes time, which the quarterback understood in fighting through the valleys of October and November.
And the good news is that he’s bringing a young crew along with him.
Wicks, as we said, is one of four rookies to have multiple catches Sunday, joining receiver Jayden Reed, and tight ends Luke Musgrave and Tucker Kraft. Doubs and Christian Watson, both in their second years, were on the other end of Love’s two touchdown throws. So on paper, at least, and as long as a Bakhtiari-less line can hold up, the quarterback isn’t the only one who should ascend as the year wears on.
“Over the past couple weeks, there’s been a lot of growth offensively,” Love says. “We haven’t always gotten the outcome we want in the game, but you can see the growth, which is very important. I just think it’s just something we keep building on and getting better every week. You could definitely see the growth out there today, just being able to stay on the field, execute these drives, put long drives together and finish in the end zone.”
As for Love himself, more bumps are coming. He knows that and is ready.
What he trusts will come, too, is the accumulation of experience—growth that will tell him when to go for that third-and-long throw like he did to Wicks or when to move quickly and give his teammates a chance in those spots, like he did with Doubs. It’s also, for a player who’s capable of making big plays out of structure, a matter of continuing to figure out when the routine play is necessary and when it’s time to let it rip.
“The more comfortable I get, I’m going to continue to grow and make these off-schedule plays that I know I can make, that I make in practice,” Love says. “It’s just having a good awareness of the pocket, good feel, continuing to move around. The play that I had today moving through the pocket and hitting Wicks across the middle when I was running left, just continue to make those off-schedule plays. That’s going to be huge for us going forward.”
That play was on a second-and-15 from the Packers’ 12-yard line early in the second quarter. It went for 29 yards and led to a 52-yard missed field goal attempt by Anders Carlson.
But beyond that it flashed, again, what Love is capable of, and why the Packers waited three years on him—the same way they once did with Rodgers. And while the team was patient with Love for so long, this year what he has needed most is to be patient with himself.
Thankfully, he has been. And he can feel the result of that.
“Every time I touch the field,” he says, “I’m getting more confident. I’m getting more comfortable, able to just settle into the game and trust my training, trust my feet and let the ball rip. … I like where we’re going.”
And with the Packers set to face the Lions on Thanksgiving, we’ll all get a good look at how far Love has come.