Opinion: The Packers let down Jordan Love by giving Aaron Rodgers' replacement too little help
KANSAS CITY, Mo. – After constantly supplying heat on Jordan Love for four quarters, Frank Clark left Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday with a rather favorable first impression of the young quarterback.
“Eventually, I feel like he’s going to be a star in this league one day,” Clark said.
Go ahead, Cheeseheads. Clip and save that one.
Love, forced into his first NFL start after all hell broke loose last week with Aaron Rodgers’ positive COVID-19 test, came up short in a 13-7 setback that snapped Green Bay’s seven-game winning streak.
But along the way he undoubtedly earned some respect. Clark, the Chiefs’ best edge rusher, never sacked Love. But he got plenty intimate. He tagged him with three of the seven hits on the quarterback and added several more pressures. The young passer turned out to be quite an elusive target.
“Even with us getting after him,” Clark added, “he showed some good signs out there, avoiding a lot of sacks, getting out of the pocket with his scrambling ability, making throws downfield under pressure. Just doing the necessary things.”
One of Love’s signature highlights came in the third quarter, but not because it goes down as a big play. He spun away from Derrick Nnadi to avoid a sack, then in the next breath met Clark coming from behind. Somehow, Love escaped Clark’s grasp, too, and flipped a desperate little pass (think hot potato) to tight end Marcedes Lewis. On the stat sheet, it showed up as completion for minus-1 yard. In real life, it was turning a huge loss into another chance.
“Definitely not how you draw it up,” Love acknowledged.
Sure, he was sacked on the next play – the only time the Chiefs sacked him – when they sent the Honey Badger (Tyrann Mathieu) after him on a blitz.
Then he kept battling to the finish.
Somewhere, Rodgers had to feel for his understudy. When they talked before the game, Love said that Rodgers told him he was excited with the chance watch the backup in action. Rodgers also urged Love to “ball out” and told him to trust his feet.
“Good advice,” Love said.
Perhaps Love, 23, will indeed live up to the prediction of stardom. But not now.
Put it this way: If Rodgers had been on the field on Sunday, the Chiefs would have been roasted with a once-prolific and now-struggling offense that generated all of 13 points.
With Love, the Packers (7-2) still had a shot to spring an upset. But just when Green Bay needed to provide some extra layers of support for the young quarterback, they failed him miserably.
No, the stats were not pretty. The Packers converted just two of 12 third downs. Love (19-of-34, 190 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT) had a mediocre passer rating of 69.5. He threw 14 passes to Davante Adams and connected on just six completions to the All-Pro wideout. His one pick came after the Packers marched deep into Chiefs territory. There will be much for Love to learn from his first start.
But the learning extends to young head coach Matt LaFleur, who admitted as much. The Packers needed a better plan to counter the all-out blitzes the Chiefs threw at the second-year passer. They tried. Running back Aaron Jones said he’s never played in an NFL game where he was called on for more blitz pick-up protections. And Love concluded that until they are able to make a defense pay for the “zero” blitzes by stinging it for a big play, it doesn’t stop.
With Rodgers, that’s never an issue. Blitz him and get killed. LaFleur won’t argue with the notion that they should have better anticipated just how relentless the blitzes would come against an untested young quarterback.
Just as bad, though, were the special teams gaffes that can be traced to nine points left off the board. Mason Crosby missed a 40-yard field goal attempt, pushing it wide left. A 37-yard try was blocked. And the Packers were lucky that the Chiefs only got a field goal after Kansas City recovered a muffed punt, setting themselves up at Green Bay’s 10-yard line.
In any event, Love has chalked up some experience that only comes with playing.
“It’s only up from here in my eyes,” he said. “It was really good to get the first game out of the way. To see a lot of things.”
Love was drafted out of Utah State in the first round in 2020 to be Rodgers’ eventual successor. With all of the drama from the past offseason concerning Rodgers’ future poised to carry over to next offseason, it’s rather apparent that the Packers have had a first glimpse at their future under real game conditions.
Next year, Rodgers could be playing elsewhere, leaving it all for Love.
Of course, no one, especially LaFleur and Love, would touch that with a 10-foot pole on Sunday night.
Jones managed a wry smile when the question of next year came his way.
“I don’t know what the future holds,” Jones said. “I’m not the GM. I don’t have a crystal ball. So, I just focus on what we’re doing right now and what’s going on right now. We’ve got to hop a plane and get ready for Seattle next week. I can’t even think about next year.”
But at least we’ve seen a glimpse of what could be coming.
Follow USA TODAY Sports' Jarrett Bell on Twitter @JarrettBell.